April 2021
April 13, 2021

Second chances

4 min read

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Just over a year ago, Australian Steve Smith was embroiled in a ball-tampering scandal during their Tour in South Africa. Together with David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, they were handed year long suspensions.

Smith’s return to competitive cricket just a few months ago, was derided by some while welcomed by others. Nothing came close to his exploits at the Ashes, where he almost single handedly helped Australia retain the series for the first time away since 2001.

English fans taunted him with boos while the likes of Steve Harmison claimed Smith would forever be known as a cheat.

Should Smith and others like him be continually chastised even after serving out their suspension?

It is not the first time that top sportsmen had cheated or even broken the law to gain an advantage over their opponent.

Olympian Tonya Harding was banned for like from skating for her role in the bodily attack of fellow teammate Nancy Kerrigan by her husband.  She went on to take up professional boxing briefly and even went on to set a new land speed record for a vintage gas coupe.

Last year she and partner Sasha Farber finished third in the popular television show Dancing with the Stars.

How about former Olympic gold medallist and reigning world champion in the century dash Justin Gaitlin? He was censured twice for doping offences yet he is back stronger as ever.

Following his victory at the last World Championships, IAAF president Lord Sebastian Coe had commented that the runner should have been banned for life.  However, his peer, the legendary  Usain Bolt, felt it was unfair and emphasised that Gatlin had worked very hard and thus deserved the victory.

At home, Datuk Lee Chong Wei was also penalised for doping offense and he too made a successful return and is now seen as role model to the younger generation badminton players in Malaysia.

There is also the case of the Spanish Paralympic basketball team. They won the gold medal  at the 2000 Paralympics but were stripped of the title after it was found that 10 out of 12 players on the team did not qualify as disabled. The ten players deliberately failed an IQ test which allowed them to play.

Just what constitutes cheating in sports? Are the likes of Smith, Harding and Gaitlin any different from the likes of Diego Maradona.

Maradona is one of the most revered footballer but did he not cheat with Hand of God goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final?

Should football players who take dives inside the penalty box  to earn penalties also be classified as sports cheats?

And there is the case of American born Elizabeth Swaney, who represented Hungary at the last Winter Olympics by manipulating the qualification rules in the women’s pipe event.

This despite not being able to do any tricks except for the occasional routine 180 in the freeski halfpipe.

To qualify for the Olympic freeski halfpipe competition, an athlete must consistently finish in the top 30 of World Cup events. There are rarely 30 entries in those events, and Swaney was always able to make the cut.

Tom Brady is perhaps one of the most popular football players in the AFL.

In 2015, the New England Patriots were caught deflating footballs below required standards during the AFC playoffs, which makes the balls easier to throw and catch. The Patriots were fined $1 million dollars and had to forfeit draft picks. However, quarterback Brady, who was suspended four games for his involvement, had the sentence overturned by a judge. 

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In 2009, English Rugby team Harlequins used blood tablets to fake an injury in order to substitute out a player who could have only left the championships game due to injury. The player, Tom Williams, was suspended four months and the team was fined £260,000.

No sportsman ever wants to be labeled as a cheater, but the truth is far from it. It happens in sports more often than admitted.

Whether you fake a dive in a football match, lie about your age to play in an age group competition, deliberately injure an opponent, bet and manipulate games you are part of or even select players based on personal relationships instead of talent, it is all cheating.

Some get caught, many escape the dragnet. Those who have been caught and have repented should be given the opportunity to redeem themselves.

Like Smith, there are many athletes out there who have served out their sentences and should be allowed to play the game without any prejudice.

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