Counterpoint: It Is Unfair to Penalize An Entire Team for Cheating of Individual

Raeesa Ashique - 2T Electrical
Posted on: February 19, 2017

In a perfect world, everyone plays by the rules. No one takes performance enhancing drugs, no one gains access to another team’s playbook, no one deflates footballs before the AFC Championship game.

But in a world which tempts athletes with incentives such as money and fame, as well as nationalism which motivates athletes to bring home medals and make their country proud, some athletes will do anything to get to the top.

Drug abuse is very common, from abuse of painkillers even after recovering from an injury, to taking steroids to enhance performance. Because it is common across all sports, I will focus my argument on substance-related violations.

I am going to narrow my focus on cheating in the Olympics, because this is the most relatable to a larger audience. I know I am expected to talk about Deflategate, but as a diehard Patriots fan I like to pretend that Deflategate never happened.

Currently, if one athlete on an Olympic team tests positive for performance enhancing drugs, there may be sanctions imposed on the rest of the team, such as disqualification or stripping of medals, as is deemed appropriate. The question at hand is whether it is fair to punish the whole team for the actions of one or a few, and its effect on the integrity of the sport.

The most publicized recent case that is relevant to this argument is Usain Bolt being stripped of his 4 x 100 metre relay gold medal from the 2008 Beijing Olympics after his teammate, Nesta Carter, tested positive for doping. I am here to argue that Bolt should not have been penalized. On a broader scale, the entire team should not pay the price for the wrong actions of a few team members.

The average Olympic athlete trains six hours a day, six days a week. They are symbols of pushing one’s body to the next level, and achieving physical excellence. They inspire the next generation to aim high, and strive to achieve their goals.

Every Olympic athlete on the team worked very hard to reach that point, and almost every single one of them played by the rules. Unless the entire team was aware of cheating happening amongst their teammates, which is quite unlikely, there is no reason for everyone to be punished.

It is unfair to hold everyone accountable for one person’s actions, and it is especially unfair to do so when the athlete who cheated did not even participate, such as a backup member of the team, or a second or third string player.

Stripping medals is a heavy punishment, and the future of an athlete’s career should not rely on a factor over which they have no control. Essentially, this comes down to luck: the rest of the athletes were unfortunate enough to be on the same team as a person who made bad life decisions.

Some may argue that everyone on the team should be encouraging each other to play fair, or that he/she should be aware of what a fellow team member is doing. However, we cannot blame one person for the actions of another. An Olympic athlete is an adult. Even if they are not legal or allowed to vote, anyone with that kind of commitment is capable of making their own decisions. We cannot put the onus on the rest of the team to monitor each other. Anyone who cheats fully knows the potential consequences of their action, but one person’s decision should not bring everyone else down. The rest of the team is consciously playing fairly, and this needs to be acknowledged.

So what is the intended effect behind stripping the rest of team of its medals? The league or committee in charge (such as the International Olympic Committee, in this case) wants to show everyone who is boss. They want to establish a standard that says “we don’t condone cheating”. They want the athletes to know that their actions have consequences.

Yes, it is important to punish cheaters, or else the integrity of the game is greatly compromised. But does the whole team need to pay the price? Theoretically, the peer pressure and the possibility of letting down your teammates is theoretically an additional deterrent to potential cheaters.

However, stripping medals does not actually achieve the desired effect.

First of all, the incentive to cheat (including money, recognition, and national pride) outweigh the deterrent of letting down one’s team. As long as these exist – and they will exist, for as long as the general public is interested in watching their countries’ athletes compete – some people will be willing to take this chance.

Secondly, this breaks trust between teammates, and destroys the team dynamic. Punishing the entire team is the equivalent of keeping the whole class in for recess because one student misbehaved. The rest of the class is going to hate them. Causing division within the team is not the appropriate way to address this issue.

Finally, people are selfish. Call me a pessimist, but I believe that everyone is out to make it for themselves. This is especially the case when money is on the table. If an individual is willing to risk his/her own career in order to be the best, he/she will definitely be willing to risk their teammates’ careers as well. An athlete who was planning to cheat beforehand will do so anyway, regardless of this additional so-called “deterrent”, without giving a second thought to the rest of the team.

In conclusion, it is unfair to penalize the entire team for the actions of one individual, when that individual is aware of the consequences of his/her actions, and is an adult perfectly capable of making the right decision. Additionally, stripping medals from the entire team is not the correct way of minimizing cheating, and so the consequences of cheating should be reevaluted.