No place for gentlemen

Crooks and thugs take over sports as winning at any cost takes centre stage. Over to Ted Corbett.

I have sometimes thought in the past two weeks that sport in my own corner of North-West Europe had suddenly turned into a giant crime scene.

Where were Sherlock Holmes, the FBI, Scotland Yard, the Met and Miss Marple when we needed someone to bring the miscreants to justice?

Far, far away I am afraid probably because they did not want to sully their hands with the nasty incidents that have caused me to wonder where it was all headed.

First, some details.

The most notorious of these crimes has been what has become known as Bloodgate. Harlequins, the rugby club who might claim to be one of the first among equals, were losing a cup-tie to Leinster.

As the end approached the coach Dean Richards, a giant of an international and, it now becomes apparent, a controlling force with Quins, decided that one of the young players must pretend to have a blood injury so that he could be substituted for a player more likely to drop a goal and so win the match.

It was done. A fake blood capsule, bought at a joke shop if you please, was crushed inside the youngster’s mouth and the substitution made.

Quins did not win, proving that the sporting gods had better eyesight than the referee, but that was not the end.

Lies were told, the young player retracted his original statement and so revealed the part played by Richards who was banned for three years and the club fined a quarter of a million pounds.

The story is continuing as I write and it is felt that there is more to come out.

It was clearly planned and there are now allegations about the same technique being used by the All Blacks, by England and Australia; some say it is common in Rugby League.

I am sad if that is the case. I played RL long enough to discover I was not fast enough, nor big enough, nor strong enough, nor clever enough; but I learnt to call the referee “Sir” whenever he spoke and that cheating of any sort might bring fierce retribution from your own captain never mind Sir or the disciplinary committee.

Life has changed in the 50 years since I played; perhaps I am simply too old to accept that what the old Yorkshire cricketers used to call “fair cheating” is now commonplace.

It is not just rugby. At soccer men dive in the penalty area although there has been no foul, at cricket there are rumours of a return of the match or player fixing scandal that made that game a laughing stock 10 years ago and in snooker two leading players have been interviewed by the police — and allowed to go without a charge — because one match was won 9-3 in strange circumstances.

The strangest of those events was that a large number of punters apparently wanted to risk their hard-earned cash on just such a score, the bookies became suspicious; and even more concerned when an easy pot that would have won the match 9-2 was missed.

What worries me most of all is that for every condemnation of these highly illegal acts there are those who want to defend what American cops call the perpetrators.

I read that Dean Richards will soon find employment when his ban is finished; and I am now listening to a radio interview in which he is being described as a great man who had made one mistake.

I see everywhere shrugs of the shoulders at the thought that the bookies are again spreading their evil in cricket.

Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, says it is wrong that the higher authority should ban his player when the referee has taken no action against him over a dive in the penalty area in another Cup-tie.

Surely the Rugby League referee who told me to shut up when I kept shouting “They’re offside again, sir” had it right.

“Just wait until they try that under their own posts,” he grinned. “Now shut up and let us play rugby.”

Indeed. Let’s not play winning. So much emphasis is now placed on success that it is difficult to see the cheats. “Well, they won, didn’t they?” say the apologists for the anything-goes brand of sporting behaviour.

The law-breakers in cricket have led the way for the cheats and it is too late I suspect for a return to the good old days when the good old boys behaved impeccably according to a set of standards begun in both the public schools of the 19th century and the Yorkshire Leagues where ministers of the church played such a prominent part.

It was said that victory at Waterloo was based on the playing fields of Eton where no cheating was tolerated.

Believe me; the leagues played just as important a part. As a youngster, barely out of short trousers I was introduced to an uncle who played his cricket in the Bradford League and would hear nothing but ill of the professionals in county and Test cricket. My mother told him I had begun to play. “Is he a batsman?” he asked in the tones of a Methodist preacher demanding to know if I believed in Satan.

On being told I was, he delivered a lecture. “Build on defence,” he instructed me, “Leave anything outside the off stump alone and walk as soon as you know you’re out.”

Well, in the ten years that followed before I was injured at rugby by a forward who was determined no-one ran past him twice, I walked all too often, I developed the flashiest cover drive, and my defence consisted of trying to hit every straight ball to the farthest boundary.

Still I am sure the good old boy had it right. Sport is not worth playing — either as an amateur, a professional, a star or an elite player — if you cheat and I for one am sad to realise that the criminally-minded seem to have taken over the pavilions, the dressing rooms and — particularly — the committee room.