Winning is not everything. It is the only thing.
– Vince Lombardi
The world loves winners and worships the idea of success. When Donald Trump won, there were people who against their better judgment, rationalized that the win made him fit to be the President of the United States, undoubtedly the most powerful leadership position in the world. These folks were not his supporters to begin with. Trump’s win made him legitimate to them. If he won, he must have been right, he is fit and able – so they said.
Much the same rationalization seems to have been in place for the Australian cricket team, the team with the best winning percentages in cricket. They win, they must be right. Right in the way they play their cricket tough and go hard at the opposition. Now, after Steve Smith admitted to cheating, there is a sense of disbelief. This sense of disbelief is what needs to be reflected upon, perhaps more than the act of cheating itself.
The cheating did not take place in isolation. It transpired against the background of a cricketing culture that loves winning and worships the idea of success to the point of believing that winning is the only thing. So much so, it did not matter how terribly Australian cricketers behaved with their opponents; they were winning, after all. Brad Haddin, their 2015 World Cup winning wicket-keeper put this into perspective, when he explained why he was going hard at the Kiwis in the World Cup final. Haddin actually said that the Kiwis, enroute to victory over the Aussies in the previous league-game were way too nice, and he could not stomach it! He wanted to get fired up and not let their nicety affect his need to view opponents as hostile competitors.
Implicit in the assertion is the assumption that you cannot be nice and win. As one former Australian great said, there is a bit of the mongrel spirit required for the Australian cricketers to succeed. If this is true, then we cannot be surprised at what has come to be. Mongrels know little about the spirit of a game and something loftier than the idea of getting what they want.
Even as I write this, Cricket Australia’s James Sutherland seems to have severely under-estimated the ramifications of what has happened. In his first official comment, he has said all the right things, but not made the right decision in letting Steve Smith stay as the captain. This is a colossal leadership failure on his part, which also explains in part, the moral abyss that led to the crisis. When the captain of a team that plays your national sport admits to cheating, the wrong-doing does not simply stain the game. It sends into a tizzy the moral compass of the nation. People look upto the team and the way it plays as representative of its national ethos. Is there any nation which would accept that cheating is a part of its national ethos?
Sutherland has not been able to look beyond the game. He seems to be intent on damage control and does not want the team to be so severely dealt with that it impacts the winning mindset built on so-called hard approach to the game. And his reluctance to sack Smith is so much in harmony with the continuous condoning of cricketing behaviour of the entire team. Both the cricket establishment and the larger public have deluded themselves, helped by the winning ways and the ‘winning is the only thing’ philosophy.
Now, the Australian prime-minister has led calls for Steve Smith to be removed as captain with immediate effect. Is this that big a deal for him to do that? Yes, it is. A nation cannot be in moral equivocation about what is right and what is wrong. Leaders in the public spotlight need to be made accountable for their misdeeds. This call for accountability can also come from the ground-up. For that to happen, there needs to be a deeper debate and serious reflection on the place winning and success has in a society. Clearly, winning is not the only thing. The outrage felt the world over is an acknowledgement of that. But, there is also the hankering for the win at all costs. The very reason we reached this dark place. Can we shine some light on it?