Foul Play dissects the age-old subject of cheating in all its absurdity. From plain old doping to claiming a marathon victory despite having driven the middle section of the race, from match-fixing to diving for a penalty - cheating in sport is as old as sport itself. There are plenty of well-known cases of cheats being found out in sport: Ben Johnson, for example, was stripped of his 100m Olympic medal after a positive drugs test; South African cricketer Hansie Cronje was banned from all cricket for life after admitting involvement in match-rigging; rugby union recently found itself having to deal with the "bloodgate" scandal. However, there are myriad other examples of bending the rules more subtly: pressuring the referee, demoralising an opponent with mind games, or shirt-pulling. But what constititues cheating and where do we draw the line? Are some sports cleaner than others? Is cheating in one sport the same as cheating in another or does each sport's distinctive culture set different standards? Is there such a thing as a sport without sin? Or, indeed, a sporting competitor? This book is not a catalogue of past sporting misdemeanors so much as an investigation into the lengths to which some sports people have gone, and will go, to get the better of others. And also the lengths to which they will not go.
If this book wasn’t for you, who do you think might enjoy it more?
Someone who hasn't watched the news, read the news, or followed the news for a couple of decades. I'm not an avid follower of the subject matter of this book, but found most of the stories very familiar.
Would you ever listen to anything by Mike Rowbottom again?
I doubt it. I was expecting to hear more stories from other not-so-popular sports. Cricket, football, athletics and cycling take centre stage. Also, the whole psychology of cheating was hardly expanded. Rowbottom can write, but he rarely went deeper than covering the events. I can't remember hearing of any primary research carried out by the author. Did he talk to a single psychologist, anthropologist, behaviouralist or sportsperson for that matter? A revistation of Maradona, Ben Johnson, Lance Armstrong and Rugby's blood gate: Hardly coverage of new ground.
How did the narrator detract from the book?
My wife walked in when I was listening and genuinely asked: "Why are you spending so long listening to Siri?" He really did sound like an automated voice and made a hat-load of pronunciation errors: Jock Stine (for Jock Stein) to name one.
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
Disappointment. I just wish I walked away from this book having learnt something. Cheating bad. Doping bad. Everyone else is doing it, bad excuse. That's all I learnt from this title. Oh, and ancient Olympians ate rams balls to enhance performance.
Any additional comments?
The author takes his hack's hat off to all those competitors who don't cheat when they compete. But he has hardly exposed why those who bend the rules on the field of play. What makes people cheat? Why do we resort to underhanded tactics even if we are likely to get caught? Sadly, I'm still none the wiser after this book.