Monday 29 June 2015

Cheating in sport

Among the many outrages in this troubled world, cheating in sport may not be considered a matter of the greatest importance. During an international football match a week ago a Chilean player patted the backside of Uruguayan player Edson Calvani, and then stuck a finger up his bottom. Calvani responded with a flick of the back of his hand, and which point the Chilean fell on the floor, writhing in agony, and the referee then sent off, not the offending Chilean but the provoked Calvani. Since I know my readers to be earnest seekers after the truth, they will be horrified by this outrageous provocation, and by the gullibility of the arbiter. On the other hand, if by chance any passing readers are of more Machiavellian personality, and eschew rules in sports, then they will approve of the adroitness of the anal molestation and subsequent play acting by the perpetrator, which led to the diminished Uruguayan team losing 0-1.

What are the characteristics of cheaters in sport, that athletic activity in which fair play should be paramount? A description of psychopathic personality includes general
poverty of affect (emotion), defective insight, absence of nervousness, lack of
remorse or shame, superficial charm, pathological lying, egocentricity, inability to
love, failure to establish close or intimate relationships, irresponsibility, impulsive
antisocial acts, failure to learn from experience, reckless behaviour under the
influence of alcohol, and a lack of long term goals. Is any of this relevant to sports cheats?

Edward Dutton and Richard Lynn. Cheating in Sport and Racial Differences in Psychopathic Personality. Mankind Quarterly 2015 55:4 325-334.

The authors have looked at American Football (National Football League: NFL) players; American Basketball (National Basketball Association: NBA); and English Premier League Football (Soccer) players. They have studied two kinds of cheating, namely the use of performance enhancing drugs and breaking the rules of the game. In a black/white comparison they have looked at the proportions of each group in each sport, using a visual and biographical analysis of each of the sportsmen in the games to identify their race. They then calculated the percentages of blacks and whites identified as cheaters compared with their percentages among the players.

In the NFL black players in 2010 were over-represented in suspensions for drug use, for suspensions for more than 4 matches, for indefinite or entire season suspensions, and for being suspended more than once. A similar pattern was found for 2013.

In the NBA black players in 2013-2014 3 were somewhat more likely to be fined or suspended but the differences were not statistically significant.

In the English Premier League Football (Soccer) the authors studied the number of  red cards handed out from 2006 to 2013. Interestingly, many players receive prior warning in the form of a a yellow card for a minor offence, and thus know that they must be on best behaviour.


However, these are not overwhelming differences. There is an over-representation of black players, but only in the 2006-7 season.

I will not pretend that I know anything about the first two sports, and have only a layman’s understanding of football, so I am absolutely open to correction on any of these matters. Nonetheless, I would not be persuaded by these findings that there is a significant effect overall. I turn to those who are more engaged in sports to
either point out other studies or to suggest other data sets which could be examined for patterns of cheating.

So there you have it. Now back to the important matter. One devious finger up an innocent bottom, and Uruguay is unfairly cast out of the Copa America. I hope you will join me in demanding a replay. I am aware that one notable Uruguayan player has bitten opponents (and been suspended for his crimes) but if one cannot kick a football about of a Wednesday afternoon without unwarranted fundamental intrusion, what is the world coming to?


  1. Perhaps in future all Uruguayans should greet Chileans with a cheerful "Pull your finger out".

    I notice that the German club that's announced that the Chilean digital defiler is now for sale objected even more to his theatrics than to his assault. Good for them!

    Now then, doc; what can we infer about the IQ of the two protagonists from this sorry tale?

    1. The assailant is a "picaro" and a "vivo" indicating intelligence, guile and lack of morals.

  2. I don't know a great deal about American football, but I think that black players in the NFL are over-represented in positions where size and power is required i.e. where there is the greatest incentive to use anabolic steroids and the like. It would have been interesting to see how much of the variance in cheating iss explained by players' positions, and whether controlling for this would have affected their findings regarding racial differences in cheating in the NFL.

    1. Agree that some positions (defenders?) might lead to body building, and to judicious fouls, or "professional" fouls as they have been called.

  3. Rugby players are much bigger than they were in my day. What can it mean?

  4. This Atlantic article would lead me to believe that looking at the players suspended for drug use would grossly understate the problem.

    On September 21, 2008, the San Diego Union-Tribune published a report that should have lit a fire about drug use in professional football: 185 NFL players were identified as users of PEDs. One of the more shocking aspects of the report was the rapidly growing size of NFL players, and not just offensive linemen, whose average weight has increased by more than 50 pounds over the last two decades. The report identified players at every position, including quarterback, as using PEDs, and players from every NFL franchise were mentioned. At the time, the Union-Tribune study was called "the Mitchell Report of Pro Football," referring to George Mitchell's hugely influential 2007 report on PED use in major-league baseball. In fact, the Union-Tribune's list was nearly 100 players longer than Mitchell's.

    Anabolic steroid use is usually facilitated by coaches, is it not? In which case, any study would have to correct for the players' social status. Many athletes seem to be raised to do whatever the coach requires. That is not how I'm raising my children, but many Americans do raise their children to please their coaches.

    Coaches, especially college football coaches, may be paid exceedingly well. The chief coaches are often paid better than college presidents. (Are the coaches white?)

    So, is it a moral failing, or is it social status and family custom? With, of course, data sets which are too small.

  5. The biting Uruguayan is now known to aficionados as "Fang". Perhaps the digital defiler will become "Finger".

  6. I'm sorry to contribute Australian League footballer, Hopoate, to the hall of infamy. Of all the great things I read here ,my contribution is pathetic but here is goes from Wikip:

    During a 2001 clash with the Cowboys, Hopoate, in an attempt to unsettle several of his opponents, inserted his finger in three players' anuses, the first occurring during the seventh minute of play. At the conclusion of the match the matter was immediately referred to the rugby league judiciary where a case was put forward from both sides on 28 March.

    Hopoate claimed in front of the panel of judges that he was simply attempting to give all three players "a wedgie" with his fingers, denying he had done anything wrong and that he was "a great believer in what happens on the field should stay there".[5]

    The three victims in the case, Cowboys players Glenn Morrison, Peter Jones and Paul Bowman all disagreed with the reasoning put forward by Hopoate and his team. Jones stated, "It wasn't a wedgie. That's when your pants are pulled up your arse. I think I know the difference between a wedgie and someone sticking their finger up my bum", while Bowman stated that he was "disgusted" and "couldn't believe it."[6]

    Hopoate subsequently was charged with unlawful sexual connection in relation to the incident.

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