OPINION: Pay dispute, pressure may have driven Aussies to cheat

Steve Smith (right) and Cameron Bancroft face the music. Photo: Getty
Steve Smith (right) and Cameron Bancroft face the music. Photo: Getty

THERE are no excuses for the behaviour of the Australian cricket team who were caught blatantly tampering with the ball in Cape Town.

But if we are to understand why highly paid athletes would risk their reputations and, potentially, careers in such a cavalier way, we need to consider the context in which the tampering occurred.

Firstly, last year’s pay dispute, which saw the Australian team threaten to strike during the Ashes, may have subtly ramped up the pressure on the team.

Australians have always had high expectations of our sportspeople, particularly our cricket team.

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So having secured a pay rise, some of the players may have felt additional pressure to deliver their side of the bargain – which means winning Test matches.

Additionally, the Test series in South Africa has been particularly acrimonious with each match marred by ugly confrontations between players.

Steve Smith was clearly aggrieved when South African paceman Kagiso Rabada’s suspension for making contact with the Aussie skipper was overturned without giving him the opportunity to provide evidence.

These combination of factors, very high expectations and feeling as if they had been treated unfairly are likely to have played a role in helping those involved justify their actions a process psychologists call moral disengagement.

Moral disengagement occurs when an individual knows that something is wrong, but is able to convince themselves that these ethical standards do not apply to them.

In this context Steve Smith may have felt that because he was being treated unfairly and because of the aggressive manner the series was being contested, the cheating was justified.

We like to hold our sportspeople up as heroes and expect them to behave morally. We also like to see them win.

What we witnessed in Cape Town when these two expectations come into conflict was that winning was judged to be the more important consideration.

It showed us that there is a cost associated with the attitude of “win at all costs”.

Professor Alfred Allan is an expert in professional ethics in ECU’s School of Arts and Humanities

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