Good lord, it’s been an eternity since we were last graced with a professional cheating scandal.
The world has become indescribably dull. Birds no longer sing. Children sit morosely in the dirt, crying out for another Irish dancing scandal. An unshining sun hangs awkwardly above us, like a huge yellow plate that’s too big to close the cupboard on properly so it has to live on the pan shelf.
After we were given the brief ecstasy of back-to-back professional cheating scandals hitting headlines faster than you can cut an illicit ball bearing from the belly of a competition fish, it seems that the high-water mark has passed. Professional cheaters in unusual fields go unexposed. I’ve almost forgotten how it felt to learn that a visually alarming chess guy may or may not have used futuristic suppositories to upset the game’s fragile professional ecosystem, or to witness a respected angler allegedly dishonour himself in real time before his baying peers, frenzied with indignity and drunk on whatever it is fishers’ drink (fish blood?).
These moments were our Berlin Wall. They were our moon landing. We need more of them, and we need them immediately.
Let me be clear: these scandals are the most interesting things to ever occur in their respective environments. They may be the most interesting things to occur this year, a year in which Ukraine was invaded, Biden pardoned weed convictions, most of the world was underwater at some point, and the threat of nuclear war coughed to remind us that it was still hanging around, just in case we wanted to be scared of it.
For a moment none of that mattered and we were reminded that a sticky underbelly exists under all organised events – and they are the richer for it. Irish dancing hasn’t seen this much press since Riverdance perfected kicking the shit out of a stage. It’s the most exciting thing to happen in the chess world since Deep Blue tore out Garry Kasparov’s spine and held it aloft like Sub Zero in Mortal Kombat.
It’s telling that the public reaction was one of great excitement. Nobody actually wants cheating to be nonexistent. To say otherwise is delusional.
And this isn’t just for professional sports and games. Cheating makes board games better than they could ever be on their own. Having an underbelly banker secretly skimming money from the Monopoly pot creates a chaos economy that easily makes up for how boring it is and how much I lose at it otherwise. Inventing a word for Scrabble and forbidding your opponent from looking it up uses a much more impressive part of your brain than simply committing real words to memory.
The only question should be how to manage it properly. A once-common suggestion for addressing cheating in sport was to create separate leagues that would forgo proper scrutiny, where cheaters could prosper on their own terms, like when the staff at Jurassic Park cut their losses and just give the dinosaurs their own island.
You see this in professional bodybuilding and powerlifting competitions, where anabolic steroids are so common and their users so mad about policing (that’s weird, what would make them angry?) that new governing bodies emerged to cater to those who didn’t want to stop quaffing huge jugs of elephant hormones the second everyone turns their back.
But this is the wrong way to go about it. Siloing cheaters off takes away the point of cheating – that is, the fun of observing a cheating scandal. Cheating must be common enough to be regularly exposed, but not so endemic that it loses its illicit thrill. It must occur in a place of static and easily disrupted order. The rules must forbid subversion explicitly, but in doing so call for it implicitly.
How do we benefit from stamping out cheating at all? Because doping tarnishes the achievement of some lab-grown pole vault freak whose rosy heights we could one day be inspired to reach if we truly pushed ourselves?
News flash, dipshit: we are the cheaters. We’re not the ones who’re going to land on the podium under natural conditions. We’re not the athletic marvels or the once-in-a-generation lawn bowls geniuses, we’re the people who would need to mainline shark testosterone for a chance to even be considered. Most of us would be lucky to pick up a pole vault pole and walk away without our entire body impaled on the end like a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
When cheaters prosper, we all do. And when they’re exposed, it’s very funny!
We need professional cheating, if only to make us feel better about ourselves. Very few of us are as virtuous as we’d like to think we are. All of us are reaching out for something that’ll always be out of reach.
So when someone cheats (cheats!) at a game (at a game!!!) it’s a small, true bit of solace. A reason to stop worrying so much, to stop making excuses for the small failures of our lives.
Because somebody may have cheated at Irish dancing, and if that’s true they’re going to be executed for it.
• Jack Vening is a writer living in Melbourne. He is currently completing his first book of stories, and sends out Small Town Grievances, a community newsletter about a nameless town with an owl problem, every few months