I’ve not quite sure how I feel about Cameron Bancroft and the Australian cricket team being engulfed in a cheating scandal.
I’m not in any doubt that they cheated. That seems pretty cut and dried. And I don’t disagree it’s not a good look. Neither was the stunning lack of self-awareness during the press conference after the charges were announced, where they showed little understanding of how their behaviour would be perceived.
So yes, they cheated, but I’m a little at odds with the sense of national outrage that seems to be dominating the news cycle and social media today. Maybe I’m in a minority, but I even feel a bit sorry for Bancroft and, while I am not going to defend his or Smith’s actions, I can’t quite reconcile the torrent of condemnation these young men are receiving.
Bancroft, Smith and their teammates attempted to gain an advantage by deliberately and covertly breaking the rules of their sport.
Yet, in many sports, professional sportsmen who flirt with the rules are lauded as being fierce competitors and players who don't can be accused of being ‘too nice’. Every time a footballer or soccer player deliberately grabs an opponents’ shirt or stages for a free kick (both of which happen too many times in a game to count), they are also deliberately breaking the rules of their chosen sport to gain an advantage. Yet fans of these codes- some of the same fans who are calling for Smith’s head- seem to be largely accepting of these forms of cheating. Most Essendon fans I know don’t even blame their club for the supplements scandal.
But for some reason the events in South Africa do feel different. I haven’t got a good explanation for why, but I feel it too. I’m not sure if I have been carried away by the hyperbolic reporting, but like I said at the start, I’m still figuring out exactly how I feel about the whole thing.
Are some forms of cheating better than other forms of cheating? If that is the case, I would be curious to know why and see what criteria we use to determine it. Or are we just disappointed that the veil is lifted and our cricketers are not the noble role models we imagined? But surely we were always kidding ourselves if we didn’t already know that. To suggest cricket is a somehow the purer game is also a very difficult argument. Ball tampering is not new, nor is match fixing or the vexed issue of sledging.
We might also consider the limited ethical balance in the world of professional sport corrupted by ridiculous amounts of money. These people live and breathe an atmosphere in which they are judged only according to sporting success- win and they are feted as heroes, but any loss or failure could be their last and have significant implications for their future. For all the rhetoric I have heard in the last 24 hours about the spirit of the game, the media and supporters have little time for honourable losses. Compounding the problem, many players miss out on opportunities for education and personal development as they are closeted within elite development programs from a young age, so perhaps we could be a little more realistic about our expectations around ethical decision making.
A final note on Smith, Bancroft and their teammates. They are not the first young athletes to make a bad mistake and they certainly won’t be the last. The consequences of their actions will be coming apparent to them in the coming days and they may well experience significant distress. As seemingly guilty as they are, we would do well to consider their own mental wellbeing during this time. This is not a mitigating factor for any punishment Cricket Australia believes appropriate, but reminds us that it serves little purpose to continue to vilify them publicly.