Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Integrity of game play: Institutional cheating

This is the fourth in a series of five posts on the topic of integrity of game play. The first post in the series was about various types of player misconduct and its implications for sportsmanship and game outcomes. The second post discussed the moral character of different types of strategic tanking and looked at various examples of tanking from a variety of different sports. Last week’s post was about referee bias in diverse sports and how it relates to overall decision-making and judgment.  Today’s post looks at examples of organizational cheating operations by teams.  The fifth and final in the series, on March 21, will analyze examples of unethical leadership by coaches.

Institutional cheating by sports teams has sparked repeated scandals in the media and inspired outrage from observers who perceive sustained operations by teams to cheat or gain unfair advantage as an assault on the competitive objective of game play. These cheating campaigns can have a dramatic, and disastrous, impact on both reputation of teams and their future competitive possibilities or the sustainability of their prior achievements that may have been reached dishonestly.

There are many examples of well-known institutional cheating efforts across various sports leagues. Some of these include:

  • Russia and the Olympics – The state-sponsored (or at least enabled) doping operations have cast a significant shadow over Russia’s athletics delegations. For more on these issues, check out this post on doping scandals, which discusses Russia’s case in great detail, among others:  Why Russia Tried to Cheat its Way to Glory
  • The Red Sox and their Apple Watch – The use of technology to aid in cheating by teams has become increasingly common and problematic. One of the stranger, and more disconcerting, examples of this use of technological aids to cheat in baseball comes from the Red Sox:  How an Apple Watch Helped the Red Sox to Cheat, Say Investigators 
  • NCAA eligibility – For university sports programs, navigating the complex and often arbitrary NCAA rules and sanctions systems is an all-consuming compliance task. Because loss of eligibility can be season- or career-ending for players, and equally negative for the teams that rely on their contributions or could risk having results vacated if ineligible players contribute, incentive exists for manipulating player eligibility conditions. This includes academic misconduct in which student athletes cheat or are given dishonest grades in order to falsely maintain their eligibility:  An “Epidemic” of Academic Fraud
  • Cheating in football – Check out this selection of well-known, even notorious, cheating scandals from the NFL:  The Joy of Six: NFL Cheating Scandals from Spygate to Bountygate
  • Age fraud on national soccer teams – Falsifying players’ ages in order to maintain their eligibility to play at a certain level and give the team unfair competitive advantage is a particular problem for national soccer programs:  Africa at the U-17 World Cup: An Age Old Debate  FIFA has attempted to develop scientific testing to check ages of international players, whose identity documentation is questionable, but there is no medical or forensic consensus on the efficacy of these intended oversight attempts:  Dear Fifa: There is No Scientific Test to Prevent Age Fraud

Check back next week, Wednesday March 21, for the final post in this series of five, which will discuss examples of unethical leadership by coaches and question its impact on the conduct and achievements of teams and players the coaches influence.

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