The psychology of cheating in sports, from chess champions playing dirty to tennis stars’ foul play
Disgraced chess grandmaster Igors Rausis, who was banned from tournaments for six years after he was caught cheating by using a phone while sitting on a toilet, has been spotted competing under a new name
By Kasia DelgadoOctober 13, 2020 12:52 pm
Cheating in games and sport is nothing new, but now and then, there’s an incident of foul play that seems particularly bold.
Igors Rausis, a disgraced chess grandmaster who was banned from tournaments in 2019 for six years after he was caught cheating by using a phone while sitting on a toilet, has been spotted competing under a new name.
Players became suspicious of the unrated “Isa Kasimi” after he thrashed an opponent at a small tournament in Latvia. Causes, now 59, had been the oldest player in the top 100 and was not breaching his ban because the tournament was not organised by the World Chess Federation – but his return has got plenty of chess players seething.
What makes a player like Rausis risk his reputation in the first place? It’s all about ego, says Roberto Forzoni, a performance psychologist who has worked with Premier League football teams, Olympic athletes and tennis champions, including Andy Murray.
“In psychology, we look at two types of athletes,” he tells i. “Taskorientated athletes are into self-improvement, working hard to get where they want, and they feel pleased with the improvement. Then there are the ego-orientated athletes who want to win. They might think: ‘I need a victory, it doesn’t matter what I do, I need to win, and then I’ll feel pleased. If I need to cheat or undermine something my opponent is doing, then I’ll do that.”
Forzoni regularly encounters tennis players who say they can’t bear watching their opponent cheat by saying a ball is out when it is clearly in, simply to try and win a point. “The game becomes an ego game where if they win, their ranking goes up, and they feel better. But then they always reach a block where they can no longer do that as umpires are involved, and then anxiety comes in. They feel the pressure and often start shouting and screaming and go on the attack.”
Of course, for many people, the idea of winning through foul play might feel like a hollow victory. The guilt would eat them up. But for certain psyches, the ego boost of a win by any means is enough to overcome any potential guilt. Look at Lance Armstrong, says Forzoni, who for years vehemently denied any involvement with doping and went after those who accused him of cheating. “The athlete soon becomes immune to what they’re doing,” he says. “They start to think: ‘I’m not taking drugs, I’m just doing what’s normal, but I’m not going to admit to it, because I reckon everyone else is doing it too’.”
If you’re inclined, then guilt does not come into it. Forzoni likens it to someone robbing a bank or mugging you.
“They probably won’t feel that sense of guilt doing it because the thought of selling that watch or having that money overwhelms the morality of what they’re doing,” he says.
Whether it’s cycling, where doping is rife, or chess, where the International Chess Federation, or FIDE, is having a problem with smartphones, cheating can have devastating consequences for the sport. In 2019 more drug cheats than ever were caught, with World Anti-Doping Agency figures showing a 13.1 per cent rise in anti-doping violations. Forzoni says there has been a push among many coaches to teach young people that winning dirty is not worth it.
“If you grow up playing a sport,” he says, “you judge your personality and character by the results you get. People need to be told it’s ok to take the time to become a winner.”