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Home   /   Crossing the line in sport: Is cheating always wrong?

After seeing Jamal Lewis sent off for time wasting in the 37th minute during Northern Ireland’s recent 2-0 loss to Switzerland in World Cup Qualifying, a couple of important questions came to mind. The first being, how on earth did Lewis get sent off for attempting to run down the clock with a whole half of football left to play? And, secondly, and more importantly, is time wasting cheating, or is it just part of the game?

We’ve all done it, Time wasting. Whether it be a six-aside game with barely, if any meaning, or a cup final against your biggest rivals. It could have been the loose laces of a goalkeeper, forcing an outfield player to slowly walk over, before very slowly looping not once, not twice, but three times. Or it could have been the classic three minute throw-in, which can age a player roughly five years. No matter what is was, however, one thing that is clear is that it was against the basic football rules, technically making us all ‘cheaters’ at some point in our, and this term is used very lightly, football careers. 

The rule itself, as per the FA website, is as follows: “A player is cautioned if guilty of delaying the restart of play.” 

So, as we can see, it is a rule. The most serious rule you can break? Of course not, but a rule nonetheless. And that’s where the biggest question comes into play. If we break that rule, which, as already established, most of us actively do, does it make us cheaters? Does it tarnish us with the same brush as the Luis Suarez, who has previously bitten Giorgio Chiellini, Branislav Ivanović, and Otman Bakkal in the worst hat-trick a striker has ever secured? Probably not.

The fact is, cheating is a strong word. In this instance, when taking seemingly forever to take a goal kick or tying those laces, the word ‘gamesmanship’ will suffice. 

Then the question arises of, what is gamesmanship? Gamesmanship is becoming increasingly subjective; different people may feel as though different moments count towards it. But, most would likely only deem things such as tactical fouls – preventing counter-attacks and ‘taking one for the team’ – as well as the already-mentioned time wasting – which can vary in its technique – as gamesmanship.

Here’s the issue, gamesmanship isn’t necessarily frowned upon like cheating, like Suarez’s bites or his 2010 handball against Ghana in the World Cup quarter-final. Instead, fans of the supporting team, will celebrate it because it shows fight and spirit; it shows sacrifice. And, Sacrifice yourself for the fans, and you’re on your way to selling shirts.

The other issue we have here is that there is no solution. Referees spot time wasting, or hear the increasing shouts from the stands, and issue a yellow card. The issue is then done; the punishment has been handed out. The game moves on. 

Is what the rule book defines as ‘cheating’ always wrong? No. Using time wasting as an example, ‘cheating’ isn’t always drastic. Sometimes, it is just a part of the game; the unpredictable, controversial, dramatic game that we all fell in love with since setting eyes on it. Continue those age-long throw-ins, those moments of sudden ‘cramp’, or the longest run up to a goal-kick of all time, because, every single one of those little things have their place; a place that helps to make football the game it is. Against the rules? Yes. Technically cheating? Yes. Wrong? Not necessarily.

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