Lance Armstrong & Why Cheaters Shouldn't Prosper

Cheaters never prosper, or so we’ve been told. Yet with internet-assisted exam cheating and drugs in sport scandals back in the news, some may wonder whether modern societies have lost their way; whether in today’s world you can either be honest or prosper, but you can’t have it both ways.

I think there will always be cheaters, liars and those who break the law, but we are better equipped than ever before to manage it.

There have always been teens who sought to cheat on exams. Remember Happy Days? But while the internet didn’t invent cheating, it may make it easier to detect. With search engines like Google, for instance, detecting plagiarism – the use without attribution of other people’s work – is a snap.

There is also a long history of athletes feeling pressured to break the rules. Remember the East German doping athletic scandals of the 1970s and 1980s?

And while doping strategies have grown more sophisticated, so are the strategies to catch drug cheats. Just as DNA testing on preserved evidence is delivering justice to victims in cold cases, new technologies can reveal cheating in preserved bodily fluids years after a sporting crime. As a result, medals, winnings, places in history, reputations, and future chances to compete can all be taken away.

But even when cheaters are caught – and their capture is often how we learn there is a problem – we may feel uneasy. So they nailed this one, but how many others have got away clean?

And the thought that cheaters are prospering drives us mad, in part because a thirst for fairness may be hardwired, not just in us humans, but in lower order primates.

Persistent suspicions – or worse, proof – that a contest isn’t fair threatens the very foundations of societies like Australia. Because if no matter how hard we work or how fair we play, the rewards go to the privileged slackers or cheaters who don’t get caught, then we’re the ones left with egg on our face. There we were, foolishly squandering our time and hard-earned cash in investments in ourselves and our children that never had a chance in a corrupt world to bear fruit.

It is because doubts about the integrity of the equal opportunity and merit-based systems that govern our lives are so corrosive that we must jump up and down and lay down the law when cheating is exposed. So no-one dares think shared values about honesty or fair play are slipping or that if they cheat, they won’t bear the shame of getting caught.

In the Armstrong case, the US Anti-Doping Agency has released a detailed and compelling report charging Armstrong with having used illicit performance enhancing drugs. They have stripped him of his titles and issued a lifetime ban on his participation in further competition. Public and media pressure on the Union Cycliste International – which administers the Tour de France – should continue until it agrees to enforce these sanctions.

The resolve of the chief executive of the Board of Studies of NSW – where HSC exams have begun – is also clear. ‘'The majority of [students] go in there and don’t even consider cheating. But, in any community, there will be some who do and our message to them is that they’ll be caught.’'

Adolescents – and those of adolescent mentality – think what’s right is what “everyone” does or says. It is this level of development that parents worldwide seek to goad their teenagers from endorsing by asking, “If so-and-so jumped off the Westgate, would you jump, too?” Still others do the right thing for even more primitive reasons – the fear or certainty of being detected and punished, now or in the hereafter.

Moral maturity is when you realise you need to do the right thing because you can’t behave in ways you wouldn’t prescribe for others, and if everyone cheats, lies and steals, society falls apart.

What matters is that we both assume that most people will do right with the right leadership and systems in place, and move heaven and earth to ensure that leadership and systems are present. So that for whatever reason makes sense for them, most people will do the right thing most of the time.

Publication history

Technology is Catching Up with the Cheaters  The Drum Opinion (ABC Online)