The line between gamesmanship and cheating, in any sport, is usually pretty blurred and there are always people willing to push their luck. After Jos Buttler’s ‘mankad’ incident recently, debate has opened up once again about what is – and isn’t – acceptable in sport.

Gamesmanship or Cheating?

The definition of gamesmanship is ‘the art or practice of winning games by questionable expedients without actually violating the rules’. In football, for example, there is no moral disgust reserved for claiming for a throw-in or a corner that you know very well isn’t yours – it happens all the time and all of us who have played football have done it. Yet it is a blatant attempt at deception and, technically, against the laws of the game – though it is never, ever punished and would be considered by most, at worst, as a bit of harmless gamesmanship, and certainly not cheating. Another form of deception in football is diving – something, in Britain at least, widely considered blatant cheating and highly immoral. Each of these modes of deception, under the laws of the game, fall under ‘unsporting behaviour’ – an ‘attempt to deceive the referee’. But is one necessarily morally worse than the other?

Jos Buttler succumbing to the mankad in a recent IPL game is a fascinating case study of gamesmanship / cheating. Buttler, by inching out of his ground, is clearly seeking to gain an illicit advantage – in other words…cheating, right? Yet Buttler is the victim in all of this and Ashwin, who carried out the mankad, is portrayed as the bad guy – despite, technically, abiding by the law. Cricket is unique insofar as it is intended to be played not only within its laws but also within the nebulous ‘spirit of the game’, and the debate about the mankad swirls around mostly with that notion in mind.

The MCC, cricket’s lawmakers, had originally cleared Ashwin and given the incident the green light – only to u-turn 24 hours later and deem the incident ‘against the spirit of the game’.

Fraser Stewart, the MCC’s laws manager, said:

Having extensively reviewed the incident again and after further reflection we don’t think it was within the spirit of the game. We believe the pause was too long between the time Ashwin reached the crease and the moment it was reasonable to expect the ball would be delivered. When Buttler could have reasonably expected the ball to be delivered, he was in his ground.

It is also unfair, and against the Spirit of Cricket, for non-strikers to leave their ground too early. All these debates wouldn’t be necessary if non-strikers remained in their ground until the ball is on its way down the pitch. fraser stewart, mcc

There’s also the issue around role models. Millions of young people will have seen Ashwin’s mankad – within the laws, but against that frustratingly imprecise ‘spirit of cricket’ – and you can bet your bottom dollar some kid went out that weekend and mankaded someone. Is it wrong? Or is it to be expected?

In 2013, then-Australia coach Darren Lehmann called Stuart Broad ‘a blatant cheat’ for refusing to walk after he’d edged one behind. Clearly, not walking is against the spirit of cricket, but if the umpire doesn’t give you out, especially when the stakes are so high, should you really walk? Not everyone in cricket agrees.

CHEATING AT GRASSROOTS LEVEL

It’s likely the majority of us who’ve played sport, from grassroots level upwards, cannot claim to be angels. We all play because we love it, but we all want to win and every single one of us will, at one point or more, surely have pushed the limits of gamesmanship into the realms of possible cheating.

In grassroots sport, it’s even easier to get away with cheating. There’s no video technology, no replays, and officials that aren’t as highly-trained as those in elite sport. You can have grassroots cricketers tampering with the ball safe in the knowledge they won’t be caught on camera. Golfers can magically find their lost balls in the rough, footballers can dive knowing the referee has only one look at it, and a batsman can refuse to walk knowing very well he’s edged one behind.

VIVEZA CRIOLLA

While deception and, yes, cheating largely controvert the particularly British principle of fair play, not all cultures share the same view. Loosely translated as ‘native cunning’, viveza criolla is the art of mischievous deception particular to Uruguay and Argentina. In the words of anthropologist Eduardo P. Archetti, it encourages a “capacity to cheat where necessary”.

One of its central principles is to “gain a psychological edge wherever and whenever possible” – and, rather wonderfully, it is all the more welcome if it is against your biggest rivals. Daniel Rosa, a journalist with Uruguayan publication El Pais, said:

There’s an expression in Uruguay about how you want to win. If it’s in the last minute and with a moment that enrages your opponent, all the better. That is viveza: knowing how to gain any advantage. daniel rosa

They don’t play cricket in Uruguay or Argentina, but if they did it seems pretty clear Ashwin’s mankad would be admired rather than reviled as immoral. That sort of open-mindedness feels a pretty tough sell to us British, but it’s intriguing nonetheless – simply a different set of cultural inclinations.

Cheating – The Dirtiest word in sport

Ultimately, cheating is still sport’s dirtiest word. Unlike viveza criolla, there’s no grey areas with, say, Lance Armstrong’s monumental brand of cheating. He’s a proven cheat, we all know it and we all condemn it. A new book – Commander-in-Cheat – claims to shine a light on Donald Trump’s fishy behaviour on the golf course, and what that says about his character. Does cheating in sport really tell us about our character, or have we all got a bit of it in us? When the previously angelic Thierry Henry blatantly cheated in 2009 to take France to the World Cup finals and knock the Irish out, was he simply doing anything it took to win – a bit of viveza criolla – or was he a despicable cheat?

We’d love to hear your views on what is and isn’t acceptable, and your experiences with alleged cheating at grassroots level. Have you suffered because of it? Or even benefited from it? Let us know.

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