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SPORTS SKULLDUGGERY

CHEATING AT SPORT is unsportsmanlike. But, according to John Lancaster writing in the London Review of Books, sports skullduggery has become institutionalized. His “How Bad Can It Be?, LRB, July 29, 2021, also entertains with tidbits about sports relatively unfamiliar to us ‘Mericans. 

Feigned Injuries. In marked contrast to our version, the rest of the world’s football is a non-contact sport with offenders given onerous penalties. Said another way, those offended are awarded generously.

Lancaster offers an example: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that the most important thing ever to have happened is England qualifying for the final of Euro 2020. It’s a truth not quite so universally acknowledged that the semi-final against Denmark was won by the amazing Raheem Sterling taking an equally amazing dive to earn a penalty in extra time. It’s the kind of action that draws furious condemnation from opponents (sorry Denmark!) and neutrals (sorry world!) but gets laughed off, glossed over or celebrated in the winning country.”

Did Sterling dive? Or was he pushed? The answer seems to depend upon the viewer’s nationality.

The (impartial) flag of Euro 2020, Covid-delayed until recently.

Lancaster cites another example: “We all know what it looks like: the faintest contact with a defender sending the grizzled pro to writhe in agony on the pitch, one eye on the referee, the other on next year’s Oscars.”

Ciro Immobile at pain in Euro 2020? Image from caughtoffside.com

“There was a beautiful example,” Lancaster says, “in Italy’s quarter-final match against Belgium, when the inappropriately named Immobile collapsed with an apparently career-ending injury after being breathed on by a defender, only to bounce sheepishly back to his feet and trot off to join the celebrations when Italy scored ten seconds later. The generic fan term for this kind of behaviour – which includes elaborate delaying tactics, shirt-pulling, winding up opponents and so on – is ‘shithousery.’ ”

VAR Countering Shithousery. Video Assisted Referee, an analog to our football’s Instant Replay, “is basically a good idea,” Lancaster says, despite its introduction in the English Premiership being “an injustice factory and fiesta of administrative incompetence.” 

Lancaster offers examples of  “simulation,” the sportsman term for faking: “Harry Kane, the England captain, is a master of the small simulations involved in manufacturing fouls, holding his ground so that it looks like a defender has barged into him, or going to ground in a challenge slightly more easily than is warranted. Harry Maguire, the other lantern-jawed stalwart of the national side, dived like Odette in Swan Lake when he made contact with a Czech defender in the group stage. The sprawling collapse might have made the referee think he was overselling things; he had a good claim that he had been fouled, but the histrionics didn’t help. If the ref had gone to VAR, he might well have given a penalty – but because he’d detected a dive, he didn’t.”

Rugby Cheats. Lancaster quotes football fan (and “Queen of the Kitchen”) Nigella Lawson: “I prefer soccer to rugger. I feel rugby shows men how they like to see themselves—noble warriors, primitive god-monsters—whereas soccer shows men as women see them: competitive, full of greedy ego and with that ‘mummy-watch-me-jump’ need to impress.” 

“Most rugby fans would be inclined to agree,” Lancaster says. “Rugby players don’t feign injury, they feign health.” 

Cycling Skullduggery. “There is a comic aspect to some cheating,” Lancaster says, “and it is always a lot more fun to think about than doping. Consider the example of cycling. Maurice Garin, winner of the first Tour de France in 1903, won the race the next year too, before being stripped of his victory. He had resorted to the wonderfully simple and direct expedient of taking a train.”

Now there’s a cheating ploy. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021

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