2015 – Russia is accused of running a ‘state-funded doping program’ and Russian athletes face a potential ban from the upcoming Olympics (Rio 2016)

2013 – Lance Armstrong is found guilty of doping and is stripped of 7 Tour de France Gold Medals.

2000 – The Spanish Paralympic Mens Basketball teams take the Gold Medal, only to be disqualified when it was revealed 10  of the 12 athletes suffered no disability whatsoever.

1988 – Canadian Sprinter Ben Johnson smashed his previous world record in the 100m sprint , but was stripped of his gold medal when he tested positive for steroids.

1980 – Rosie Ruiz won the Boston Marathon with a time of 2:31:56, but a later investigation revealed she had jumped out of the crowd just before the finish line and ran only the last mile of the race.

Sport history is littered documented incidences of cheating/doping scandals; and chances are there hundreds more that went undetected. It isn’t surprising, because where there is money, fame and glory/national pride there will be temptation to ‘bend the rules’/tip the odds in our favor.

The list of ‘justifications’ to cheat is extensive and from an individual point of view it is (almost) always to your advantage; what I want to address here however is the reason why as a whole it’s better for everyone/the world of sport if no one cheats.

The Prisoners Dilemma

Prisoners Dilemma

Let’s do a little reasoning experiment…Imagine you and a friend are arrested for robbing a bank, taken into custody and held in isolation. With no means of communicating neither of you know what the other will do when questioned (will they confess or stay silent?) and both of you are (separately) presented with the same deal to encourage co-operation.

Scenario 1 – If neither of you talk, you will both spend 1 year in jail

Scenario 2 – If you confess and your partner remains silent, you walk free and he/she will receive 10 years

Scenario 3 – If your partner confesses and you remain silent, you get 10 years while friend walks


Scenario 4 – If you both confess you each get 5 years

What do you do? This is known as “The Prisoners Dilemma” because no matter what your partner does, you are better off confessing; however the consequences if you both confess are worse than had you both remained silent.  So do you make your decision based on ‘greater good’ and trust your partner to do the same or do you act to protect yourself and throw them under the bus?

Now, the point of this blog post isn’t to talk about going to jail, and (hopefully) none of us is robbing banks; however, I want to take the same concept and apply it to cheating in sports.

Cheating In Sports

Imagine you’re competing in a CrossFit competition and the final workout involves high volume/heavy deadlifts; but somehow you have figured out to slightly decrease the weight on the bar without anyone knowing thus giving you a slight advantage.

If no one cheats, then the playing field is (relatively) even*; but if you cheat while everyone else follows the rules/lifts the correct weights then your chances of winning have increased because you’re moving less weight. If, on the other hand, the situation is reversed (i.e. you’re only one who uses the correct weight and everyone else cheats) your chances of winning have now decreased. And if everyone breaks the rules (either to have an advantage or to ‘be safe’ in case everyone else ford) then we’re pretty much right back to where we were in the first place (we’re all moving the same weights) except now we’re all cheating and we have…

    1. Undermined the Integrity of the Sport
    2. Placed more value on a title and winning than our own performance and improvements
    3. Technically not even ‘played the game/sport’
    4. Put ourselves at risk of being caught and disqualified

1. Undermining the integrity of the Sport – By cheating we are helping to create/support a sport culture where everyone expects the competition to cheat and even if those who don’t want to cheat may feel as though they have to just so they can keep up. It becomes the “norm” to bend the rules, and people end up accepting/taking it for granted that cheating is a part of the sport rather than trying to fix what has become a broken system.

Everybody does it

2. Placing more importance on the title “Best” than we do on actually becoming the best – When we cheat, we convert sport from a competition to determine the best athlete into a competition of “who can cheat best”. If we cheat to win and don’t get caught, is it truly a win, especially if deep down know we don’t deserve it/question whether we truly are the best.

3. No Longer ‘Playing the Game – When playing a game or competing in sport we are agreeing to follow the rules of that particular sport in order to reach a game specific goal – e.g. lift the most weight, do as many rounds as possible, run the fastest – and these rules define the sport/dictate the means we can use to play and win the game

e.g. The goal of soccer is to put the ball in your opponents net more than they put it in yours; however, if you get your biggest teammate to sit on the other team’s goalie and then proceed to kick the ball into their net repeatedly until time runs out you have not won the game because you weren’t playing soccer

Essentially, what I’m getting at is the fact that when we cheat the rules we cease to play the game and we cannot win a game we are not playing.  

4. Putting Ourselves at Risk of Getting Caught/Disqualified – I tried to list the consequences in order of importance (from most to least), and while getting caught sucks and so does the embarrassment/repercussions that go along with it that’s not what we should be worried about. Just because we know we won’t get caught doesn’t mean we should cheat, it doesn’t and we shouldn’t. Sooner or later it will come back to haunt us, and even if it doesn’t we will know/have to live with the fact that we don’t truly deserve our victory.

Final Thoughts

I do realize that the deadlift example I used is simplified situation and in the real world there is more going on and other factors can come into play.

For instance many interactions in sport are not just a ‘one off’ and we tend to come up against the same opponents more than once, which means we aren’t going into the competition blind and typically have some idea of how they play

i.e. do they always cheat? play honest? do a bit of both depending on who they are up against?

Knowing that we will likely go head to head again can be a good incentive to uphold the rules because we can cheat once or twice and get away with it but inevitably our opponents will catch on and retaliate in some fashion. There is also the fact that some people may ‘cheat better’ than others; which means even if everyone is cheating some people’s cheats may give a greater advantage.


Photo Credit: Kate Webster Photography

Photo Credit: Kate Webster Photography

And of course there are incidences in which ‘cheating’ may occur accidentally

e.g.  failing to meet movement standards (unknowlingly) and/or mis-counting a rep

and that’s an unfortunate reality in sports; however this can be minimized by making sure everyone understands the rules and standards and having well trained judges/officials present.

Cheating occurs for any number of reasons and sometimes it can be difficult to avoid the temptation (especially when stakes are high or cheating seems to be the only way to keep up); but remember we compete in order to push ourselves and have fun, and if we compete with integrity, then when we do win, we can take pride in the fact that we earned it and truly deserve it.  


Tastes like hard work…just kidding, it tasted like metal 😉


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