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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Cheating in sport, an old problem

Mosibodi Whitehead

This week the world of sport was thrown into a tailspin by the disgraceful actions of the Australian cricket team in the third test against South Africa in Cape Town.

Under the direction of his captain, Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft tried to cheat by tampering with the match ball but was caught on camera. What followed was an incredible fallout.

Smith and his vice-captain David Warner face life bans from Cricket Australia while Coach Darren Lehman, who looked to have some foreknowledge of the pre-planned cheating attempt, will surely fall on his sword and resign.

But just what frame of mind led to the now infamous #SandPaperGate saga?

What was going through Smith’s mind when he instructed Bancroft to take a piece of yellow tape onto the field to try and scuff up the ball in order to illegally extract reverse swing?

Admittedly with South Africa 129/2 in the second innings and adding to their first innings lead of 56 runs, The Baggy Greens were in a desperate situation. Especially because the 4-match series at that point was locked at one all and a loss for Australia would have put paid to any hopes they entertained of winning the series. But surely winning isn’t everything? Or is it?

Sadly, the era of professional sport with all its rich financial rewards has brought with it an attitude that cheating to win is acceptable so long as you don’t get caught.

Age-cheating is particularly rife in South African age group football. I’ll take you back to November 2012 when reigning ABSA Premiership champions Orlando Pirates shut down their youth development operation because of age cheating.

“Unfortunately, we are extremely concerned to have recently learned of instances of age cheating at our youth development programme. It appears to be of a magnitude that calls for an immediate, and extensive, investigation,” said the Buccabeers.

Orlando Pirates is therefore suspending the programme in order to ensure that its investigation into age fraud does not disrupt the schooling of the youth in its academy,” explained the Buccaneers.

The problem was big enough to warrant serious action from one of the biggest professional football clubs in the country. And school sport is not immune to this disease.

In October 2016, The South African Schools Football Association was inundated with complaints about over-age players being fielded in the McDonald’s U/14 Schools League. SASFA described age-cheating as a ‘cancer’ saying they are doing everything in their power to rid South African Schools Football of this scourge. And yet it persists.

Moeketsi Moroosi has the answer.

Moroosi, who has produced players such as former Kaizer Chiefs star Jabulani Mendu, Bafana Bafana’s Musa Bilankulu and the Gordinho brother is the head of football at Farramere Primary School in Benoni, East of Johannesburg.

In 2014 he led their team to the Danone U12 National Finals where it was only the lottery of a penalty shootout that prevented them from representing South Africa at the global Danone National finals in Brazil. Moroosi says it’s because of all the coaches that want to win at all costs.

Moroosi says that big sponsors and prize money in school football is contributing to the problem.

“Doctor Khumalo only realised when he was seventeen years old that he can actually be a professional player, before that he was just playing for fun. We need to look back and see how our football succeeded in the past. There was no prize money in anything in school level and there were no academies as well. Kids played football for fun,” said Moroosi.

It is for this reason that FIFA do not award prize money at their junior football tournaments. The sole purpose a tournament such as the FIFA U17 World Cup is to develop the sport across the globe and give budding footballers the opportunity to take part at the highest international level. It’s not about prize money. It’s not about winning.

The logic is undeniable.

Age-cheating in schools football shows a bigger problem in the world today that was on display when Bancroft tried to hide the now infamous yellow tape in his underpants. We have forgotten that sport is ultimately meant to be enjoyed and enjoyment comes regardless of the result. When the result itself supersedes everything else to the point where we are willing to cheat, then the victory is Pyrrhic.

The love of the game is what we should be teaching our learners because once that ethos has taken root, cheating can never be an option.

Mosibodi Whitehead is sports editor and broadcaster. 


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