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Crashgate: Cheating (is) For Dummies

Mike Ward's picture

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Drivers of Renault cars, look away now. Your car is about to hit the wall. Or not. Well, it will if you ask it to. Or to be more precise, if you are instructed to hit the wall by your boss (who conveniently for you, is not in the car, which you are currently driving a tad over the legal speed limit at 80mph). Be honest: would you disobey an order from your boss?

But, hey, this is Formula 1. Your boss tells you on the car radio to crash your ten million quid's worth of kit into the wall; you do it. Even if your name is Nelson Piquet Junior, son of a bloke who could really drive - without hitting walls. By crashing his car, Piquet allowed teammate Alonso to win the Singapore Grand Prix last year. It might have ended there, but Piquet owned up. His career is over. Simon Barnes, the chief sports writer of The Times, has called it the worst example of cheating in the history of sport. Now that's something. Worse than Ben Johnson, he of the Popeye physique who cruised past the opposition in the 100m final of the Seoul Olympics and had all of us who watched on TV saying "What's he on?" Worse than the rugby player with the fake blood capsule stuffed inside his sock? Worse than that modern pentathlete who rigged his fencing foil so it registered a hit when he hadn't touched his opponent? Worse than the time when I tampered with my brother's snooker cue so I could beat him?

Simon Barnes argues that what makes "Crashgate" so bad is that Piquet was risking (a) his own life, and (b) the life of spectators and stewards who just might have got in the way. The argument is that Johnson's drug-enhanced sprint was not going to endanger anyone's life. Ditto my brother's snooker cue when I loosened the tip. Crashing cars at high speed is another matter.

But cheating is never a private matter. (A pub quiz question: name a sport at which it is impossible to cheat? Er, archery?) Someone other than the person who cheats always gets hurt. What about the person denied victory? What about those who witness it and think that crime will pay for them? Look at all those surveys which show 70% of employees think that stealing is wrong, and yet 70% of employees admit to helping themselves to the office pen. (Our theology college canteen was filled with cutlery marked "British Rail".) Fine if one person does it: and if everyone does it? The student who cheats in an exam - research suggests that 60% of students in further or higher education admit to copying, i.e. plagiarism, at least once - tarnishes the reputation of the college and indeed the whole exam as well as the results of his classmates. It's like athletics again, or Formula 1. Can you really trust those exam results?

Yet we all do it. I have always suspected that the five million American adults who claim to have been abducted by aliens are five million people who, confronted by an angry partner after returning from a night out with their lover, fail to find a good excuse. "And where were you last night?" "Well, there was this Martian spaceship..." And of course the ripples of such cheating spread far beyond that initial lie. Soon family and other relationships are tainted, perhaps permanently. Cheating is a game of consequences with no end.

It is no coincidence that every one of the world's faiths - and also I daresay humanism - stresses we have a moral obligation to our brother or sister. "No man is an island."

Jesus recognised our guilt. Looking at those who accused the woman caught in adultery, he turned to the accusers and said "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." He must have seen our college canteen of pilfered cutlery. Cheating is for dummies. Sooner or later, as Renault have discovered, the chickens come home to roost.

One final thought. I have just heard that a group of young lads in Australia on a fishing trip handed in to the police the equivalent of £50,000 in used notes they found stuffed in a plastic wrapper in a mud creek. OK, so they took a month thinking about it - but they handed it in. Would it have done them, or anyone, any harm if they had kept the loot? [Discuss!] Always assuming that the original parcel did not contain £100,000... I have my doubts on that one. I'm watching those boys' spending habits carefully.


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