Being branded a cheat can leave a pretty unpleasant taste in anyone’s mouth. There is something about the word that cannot be easily expunged from one’s conscience, however cold or ruthless one may be. Perhaps it harks back to childhood, when name calling was part of playground culture. Names like ‘fatty, lanky, smelly’ and so on – we’ve all used or suffered from them – could be dealt with or simply shrugged off, but ‘cheat’ stabs much further, right into the recesses of the heart because it is a slur universally recognised.
To be caught cheating is to be reviled – rightly. Cheating may even be punishable as a crime, but perhaps unlike other crimes the stigma and loathing that attaches itself to the accused hurts more than the sentence itself, the label leaving few in any doubt as to the pariah one has become.
Sadly, at some point every year our sport makes the headlines because of cheating. Not cheating in a childish way, such as taking a short cut, missing out a lap, deflating your opponent’s tyres, screwing down their brake blocks or one of a hundred other devious subterfuges, some that I have to admit to myself, but organised corruption that ultimately manifests itself in a rider’s conviction for drug taking. Every year we are promised an end to this damaging and demeaning expose of our sport, yet every year brings another sordid case of chemical manipulation and pitiful excuses. When will it stop and how do we make it stop?
What about erecting those old fashioned stocks that criminals used to be locked into before being pelted with rotten eggs and such like? Or, better still, how about reintroducing hanging? [It was only a matter of time before this came up – ed.] Instead of having a prologue, we could hang anyone caught drug taking; that would make them think. Or, perhaps more sensibly, we could show some sympathy and understanding as to why such desperate methods are undertaken in the first place. Why is it that even those at the very top should risk everything, when the consequences of being caught demean everything they have achieved.
Maybe the answer is closer to home than we think. Cheating is everywhere. It is a part of being human; not a pretty one, it has to be said, but there all the same. Whenever we are thrown together, someone will devise a way of coming out on top or getting ahead. In its least offensive guise we call it being competitive, but at the other end of the scale it manifests itself in an altogether more sinister condition that robs some of literally everything. There is no field of human activity that doesn’t suffer cheating, not even the very institutions that were created to prevent such instances. Has not the Catholic church cheated some of their childhoods and have the police on occasion not resorted to the very crimes that they are supposed to prevent?
Popping a few go-faster tablets doesn’t seem so bad in comparison. Maybe we all need to come clean; after all, where does it start, in the playground as impressionable youngsters or watching and following the example of our so called heroes? And where will it end, with more and more sophisticated detection equipment or with the professional riders themselves, maybe even ourselves? What, exactly, is the reason for that gel in your pocket? [In my case it is to have something to eat when I need it – ed.]