Liars, Cheaters and Thieves in Your Sport: Part I

How would you react to someone participating in an event without paying for the bib?

When you read the title of the column, you might think I'm referring to the various performance enhancing drug scandals in professional sports—the Festina affair and Operaci?n Puerto in cycling, or perhaps the BALCO scandal involving Major League Baseball players as well as U.S.A. Track and Field athletes.

As many have already stated, and I agree, the cheaters in these incidents are bad for sport. In order to make sport a fair playing field, those that cheat the rules need to be dealt with and appropriately punished. They steal more than podium positions and glory from other athletes, they steal from the integrity of sport.

Is there integrity in sport? Many of the drug users have pleaded, "Everyone is cheating and in order for me to be on an equal playing field, I too need to take performance enhancing drugs."

Justification? Rationalization? Issues of entitlement and ego? Because "everyone else" within the system is unjust, perhaps the only solution is to make and live by your own rules? Look out for number one. Only chumps play by the published rules.

There are certainly a good number of potential reasons for professional athletes to cheat, not the least of which is fame and fortune; but why do recreational athletes and age-group racers cheat? The financial returns are limited and age-group "fame" is not near the scale of professional athlete fame.

Why would these athletes cheat for what seems to be very limited returns? Furthermore, should you care if those around you cheat?

Great questions.

This two-part column is not about professional athletes, it is about liars, cheaters and thieves in recreational sports—and not necessarily competitive events. These are behaviors that happen all too frequently in sports—your sports. Let me give you some examples.

Situation 1: Doing an Event Without Paying

There is a local century ride, organized as a charity fundraiser. The entry fee for this ride is $80. A rider decides it would be great fun to ride the century loop with all those other riders, but doesn't want to pay the entry fee.

The cyclist justifies the behavior by saying that they will carry their own food and water, won't use the aid stations, and they don't plan on using any of the services provided by the event director—they just want to ride with all those other people. They simply want to ride on the public road that they pay taxes for anyway.

Is this behavior illegal, unethical or immoral?

If you find out the person plans to do this, do you have any obligation to do anything about it? What happens if you find out during the event that one of your friends didn't pay—will you say anything to the person or just ignore it and hope it doesn't happen again. Maybe you don't care that they pirate the event? Would your actions be different if that friend was also someone you do business with?

Situation 2: Ignoring Use Fees

A group of cyclists you know love to use the local mountain bike trails. The park trail system charges a small fee of about $5 for a day use pass or perhaps $60 for an annual pass. This group of cyclists drives up in a vehicle and parks a quarter of a mile from the trailhead. They get out of the vehicle and ride to the trailhead, specifically to avoid paying the day use fee.

Is this behavior illegal, unethical or immoral?

The second set of questions is similar to the second question set following the Situation 1 description. Would you be more willing to say anything about this behavior if they are not your friends? What if they are your friends? Business associates?

Do you feel any pressure about being labeled a snitch, nark or tattle-tale?

Situation 3: Cutting the Course

An age-group triathlete cuts the running course in a section where no one is watching. This behavior gives them a time advantage and they end up on the podium. They receive prizes and a trophy—along with public recognition—for finishing so high. Without the time advantage, they would not have placed in the top three.

Is this behavior illegal, unethical or immoral?

Consider the same follow-up questions as in Situation 1 and 2. Would you take any action if you found out about the incident? What if the cheater is a friend of a friend? Perhaps the cheater is a business associate of your very good friend. Does the friend-of-a-friend situation change your behavior?

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