It’s fair to say that the emotional dust is beginning to settle around #sandpapergate with all three players delivering highly emotional public statements of apology to their families, Australian cricket fans, Australia as a nation, and the cricketing world at large. Cricket Australia have delivered stiff punishments and the cricketing world outside of Australia have moved their stance from a strangely gleeful, ‘I told you they were cheats’, to sympathy and concern for the players’ mental health and how rehabilitation is set to take place.
Cricket is a sport synonymous with fair play and integrity. This is the gentleman’s game after all. So to see it fall into a scandal of cheating is painful for most purists to watch regardless of who’s been caught doing it.
In the aftermath of Cape Town, one point that has received unified agreement is that at the core the decision to cheat was a result of a toxic team culture. And therein lies the questions that Cricket Australia and more notably the ICC now need to answer.
What pushed these players to make such a decision?
How was this ‘toxic’ team culture created?
What made these players decide to risk their integrity, the integrity of the sport, and the integrity of their entire nation just to win?
Cricket Australia and the ICC have finally hit the barrier they must have known was coming for some time. Anyone who has been following the sport of cricket, even for a short period, would not be surprised that cricketing culture has finally been called into question. The role that ‘sledging’ plays in the game, and even if it has a place, has long be a point of contention. Even the South African team got caught up in a ‘ball tampering’ scandal not 18 months ago due to Captain Faf du Plessis and the infamous #mintgate saga.
Add to that the exchanges between India and Australia in the 2017 series in India, the general atmosphere between the players in latest Ashes series, and suddenly it becomes clear that cricket is experiencing somewhat of an identity crisis. The ‘gentleman’s game’ doesn’t seem so gentlemanly anymore.
‘We play hard but never cross the line’ is the term that is most commonly used as a scapegoat to explain the players’ bad behaviour on the pitch, yet as former Australian coach Mikey Arthur pointed out in his article for the PlayersVoice:
“I’ve hated this talk about ‘the line’. What is the line? Who sets it? Who dictates how it is enforced? It is totally different culture-to-culture, yet the Australians believe they’re the ones who should be setting it? That it’s OK to intimidate a person from another country, another culture during the day and be buddies with him afterwards? Nonsense.”
Allowing one team or individual players to dictate what is acceptable conduct on the cricket pitch is just one of the reasons the ICC has allowed things to end up here. Sports as a whole has a very powerful ability to inspire and teach young people how to conduct themselves with discipline and integrity. Cricket has long considered itself the great bastion of hope when it comes to such matters, and cricket players, especially in Australia, are heralded as great role models for the next generation of young Aussies.
It is not a new revelation that players of all sporting codes become role models for young people whether they accept it or not. Sports has become woven into the fabric of our society and how a nation sees itself often translates into their on-field culture – this is why there was such an outcry from the Australian public; Smith, Warner, and Bancroft’s decision to cheat had by default turned all Australians into cheats.
Yet surely the Australian public and the cricketing public at large now need to consider their role in pushing these players to make such a decision. On that day, those three players gathered and through discussion decided that it is better to win than to win with integrity. They decided that they would risk being disgraced in the eyes of their young fans if it meant they would have a better chance of winning.
When did winning become more important than being a role model and an inspiration to the young people of your country? And this is not an Australian problem, this is a reflection of a crack in the global sports mentality.
In the past couple of years the sporting world has become littered with people who made the same decision – Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, the entire Russian Olympic team – they all decided that winning is more important than winning fairly. And with this decision they sacrificed their ability to inspire the youth – all to win more medals.
With large sums of money on the line, the growing influence of social media and the effect that it has on players, it is clear that the pressure on sportsmen and women to win is greater than ever. If you win you are a praised as a god, if you lose you are vilified from all corners of society.
While the ICC and cricket associations search for answers to these questions. It would be good for society as a whole to consider their role in pushing these athletes into such reckless decisions.
After all, winning without integrity is ‘just not cricket’.