Sandpaper-Gate: Psychology Plays Its Innings

By Tikka, Sai; Garg, Shobit | Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, May-June 2018 | Go to article overview

Sandpaper-Gate: Psychology Plays Its Innings


Tikka, Sai, Garg, Shobit, Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine


Byline: Sai. Tikka, Shobit. Garg

Ah! An emotion-filled, hectic week for passionate cricket lovers like us. Since the telecast of the ball-tampering video during day 3 of the third test match between Australia and South Africa at Newlands, Cape Town, a lot has transpired - cheating, confession, punishment, and apology. These are not new to either sports or sports psychology. Gender deception, bribery, match and spot fixing, doping and, the latest hype, ball tampering are all well known.

Perhaps, tampering the cricket ball to extract enhanced reverse swing, although argued for being a relatively lower level offence, fits best into the definition of 'cheating,' which is a 'deceptive behavior intended to break the rules and make illegitimate gains.'[1] Apart from match and spot fixing, where players are bribed mostly to underperform, resorting to illegitimate means or cheating is driven by an ultimate motive to win. The modern sport in general, not limited to any particular sport or team or individual, has been criticized for their 'winning at all cost' attitude.[2] Perhaps, this attitude has been termed as 'popular mythology' that is ruining the modern sports.[2],[3] The Australian 'win at all cost' attitude has been blamed, by the sports and telecast media, as being the primary motivation behind the index 'sandpaper-gate' cheating saga. Indeed, 'goal orientation' has been an important variable in sports psychology research that is studied as a predictor of cheating. Grossly, two types of goal orientations have been defined: (a) Task orientation, where the goal is mastering a skill or task and (b) Ego orientation, where the goal is to attain success by outperforming an opponent.[4] This 'motivation-cheating' relationship in sports was very recently examined by Ring and Kavussanu using an experimental design.[5] They reported that athletes having higher ego orientation and lower task orientation use illegitimate means to win. Several previous studies have uniformly found a positive correlation between ego orientation and cheating among athletes, footballers, and tennis players.[6],[7],[8],[9],[10] Social learning theories have aided the moral growth in sports for a long time now.[11] Mezirow's transformative learning theory, in particular, has been used to transform 'winning at all costs' perspective to a more acceptable, 'give us back our game' (GUBOG) perspective in sports.[12] GUBOG is an approach that aims at developing sporting talent while maintaining the human rights and dignity of the sportsperson.

Interestingly, studies have also hypothesized that moral-antisocial attitudes mediate the relationship between ego orientation and cheating.[5],[6],[7],[8],[9],[10] Recently, Kavussanu and Stanger [13] reviewed the existing literature and endorsed this relationship. A couple of other findings from that review are particularly interesting in the current context. First, 'anticipated guilt for acting antisocially inhibits antisocial behavior.' This realization, however, seems to have come a little late, when Steven Smith said 'anytime you think about making a questionable decision, think about who you are reflecting, you are reflecting your parents. And to see the way my… old man is paining… and my mom… it hurts.' Second, 'antisocial behavior brings anger in teammates.' The way past cricketers, mostly Australians, reacted on this issue reflects just this. By 'antisocial behavior,' here, we precisely indicate the tampering incident and genuinely believe that it was just a 'slip' in the moral behavior of those accused, and are not drawing any parallels onto the characteristics of antisocial personality or pathology. Neither are we questioning the personal motivations of players nor do we have any intention of demeaning the integrity of a team.

Now moving onto confession, punishment, and apology. All the three cricketers who were found guilty in the 'Newlands saga' have publically confessed their mistake and sought apologies. …

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