I listened to part of a really interesting debate on Radio 5’s “606” phone-in last night... the basic premise of which is that Robbie Savage would have deliberately upended an opposing player and in his words “taken one for the team” to deny a possible scoring opportunity.
I joined the programme just as some bloke castigated (well, he tried...) Savage for “cheating” – for actions he considered to be little different to those of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.
Robbie Savage is a pundit... a former professional who is (I believe) not setting out to be purposefully confrontational, but whose honest views may well divide popular opinion. That might not be too far away from the dictionary definition of “pundit” – you might not always agree, but at least the argument comes with the benefit of experience.
Apart from spending 25 years as a club cricketer of minimal repute, my views carry a lot less weight – but I’m going to air them nonetheless (coincidentally 606 was usually how one of my overs started!).
First of all, I would draw a major distinction between team and individual sport. The need to rely to a greater or lesser degree on your colleagues will surely create more situations when decisions are taken to the possible detriment of the individual, but the greater good of the whole.
Far more important though is the thought process. Lance Armstrong chose to deceive in a premeditated, calculated way that can never be compared with a split second on-field decision in a fast-paced team environment. Any “foul” play is carried out in full view of officials charged with interpreting the laws of the game and enforcing punishment; Armstrong’s deception runs much deeper than that because there was always a chance (or a hope or even expectation) that he would never be caught.
Enough of the cycling comparison... because realistically there is no real comparison. Team sports will be littered with examples of actions intended to either gain an advantage, or deny an opportunity... the hand in the ruck might cost a three-point penalty and a sin-binning in rugby union – but is that not better than a seven-point converted try?
Whatever the example, is it cheating?
No, of course it’s not. Is it breaking the rules?
Yes, but that’s why there’s a referee, umpire or whoever...
The problem modern sport faces is that the financial rewards for success are so high – and the consequences of failure so costly – that the line between rule-breaking and cheating has become much greyer in colour.
For every deliberate foul, there will be an equally intentional dive. The purpose is still to gain that advantage, but the technology of today can now readily identify the “cheat” and until the day comes when diving and the like is punished with an immediate red card and ban (even retrospectively), then of course the practice will continue.
As for the deliberate foul... well I agree entirely with Robbie Savage. In some ways, it is part of the embodiment of the team ethic and (in my irrelevant opinion) both is and probably always will be an integral element of any professional team sport in which winning is everything.
Interesting debate, good show... just needs a bit more time devoted to Gateshead FC and I’d be tuned in every week!
All my own work... almost.