Pay the penalty

Cheating at work should come with penalties, even in sport, and perhaps culprits should be put on trial.

Powered by automated translation

Cheating at work can be a serious matter. Stealing the office stationery may get you the sack but, as we occasionally see in this newspaper, more serious dishonesty or breaches of trust could land you in jail. Two kinds of cheating at work have been in the headlines in Britain. The first, concerning what members of parliament claim in expenses, has been rumbling on since May, when a newspaper began publishing details of some of the practices involved. One politician had asked taxpayers to meet the cost of a floating island in his duck pond; others had indulged in "flipping", chopping and changing which properties they called their second homes in order to make the most of generous handouts towards running costs.

In the ensuing scandal, heads have rolled and some parliamentarians face prosecution. For more recent controversy about cheating at work, we must turn to the back pages. More than ever, footballers are being accused of committing breaches of trust, acting dishonestly and seeking personal or collective advantage by improper means. All sorts of theatrical tricks are employed in the hope of winning penalties or ensuring that opponents are punished with yellow or red cards. The distant prospect of contact, in what used to be a physical contact sport, is now sufficient excuse for footballers to launch themselves into the most exaggerated of falling motions, usually described as diving but in extreme cases looks more like birds taking flight or athletes tackling the high jump.

In the latest "extreme case", the French player David Ngog performed what some have called the dive of the season, which fooled the referee and won Liverpool a match-saving penalty. One radio presenter said he "very nearly cleared the crossbar". But Ngog is hardly the only candidate; some of us expect to wait a long time for a more spectacular dive than that produced by Eduardo, playing for Arsenal in the Champions League in August.

With an inflated sense of moral superiority, English fans and commentators often blame the increased presence of foreign players. Nonsense. I would even argue that Ngog's dive was not the most flagrant in his club's history. I remember seeing a Liverpool midfielder, tripped some way outside the penalty area, float with exquisite grace through the air before slithering in the mud towards the penalty spot, winning a penalty that earned a draw. That player was a Scot, Gary McAllister, and there have been numerous other instances of simulation by British footballers. "Foreigners" are certainly not the only ones to writhe around in apparent agony after some real or imagined foul challenge, only to make full recoveries once they get what they want.

Amid the clamour for retrospective sanctions, no one has suggested putting the worst culprits on trial. Why not? The activity may be sport but, returning to my starting point, these men are cheating at work. If the case lists at the Old Bailey were to include the odd millionaire striker (and a few fiddling MPs), the Premier League and parliament would become squeaky clean in a flash.