After watching Steve Smith in agony at a press conference, explaining himself to the Australian public, even the harshest critic would find it difficult not to feel saddened or sympathetic to this young man’s lost opportunity.
Even so, the tears and anguish of Smith, David Warner, Cameron Bancroft and coach Darren Lehman appear not to be sufficient to counter our nation’s public outrage over cheating at the hands of our beloved cricket heroes. This was no mistake or error of judgement.
The premeditated decision to tamper with the match ball was a calculated choice to tamper with the rules, which is cheating. And it is this dishonest, unfair and unethical behaviour that is the true source of the outrage. Especially, when it was done by men who say they love the game and should know better. Men who say they are proud to be in the Australian team, who we have grown to admire, who we have watched develop and in whom we have invested our taxpayers money, faith and weekend TV time.
In the business world, cheating is met with immediate dismissal. Leaders paid a significant wage to do their jobs responsibly, don’t have the luxury of choosing when the rules apply to them and when they don’t. They are expected to uphold the highest standards and good governance and to be role models to the rest of their team. It’s set in stone and if they make a choice not to follow the rules, then they have to pay the penalty. The belief is that ethical leadership contributes to long term success.
So why should we expect different ethical standards from our cricket team? Perhaps once we did, but that’s changed. in today’s world, there is a strong focus on ethical behaviour – more than in yesteryear. The concept of ethical citizenship applies to all people in all fields of endeavour. Behaviour challenging the edges of the rules that we once might have been tolerated as ‘cheeky, maverick, larrikin’, terms worn almost as a badge of honour, are now not entertained as civilised and acceptable. We want to win, but it must not be at any cost. This is the message we’ve handed down to our cyclists, swimmers, athletes and other sporting industries. And this was the message most viciously reinforced by Cricket Australia to the tampering transgressors in the handing out of what might be some the most severe penalties we’ve seen in our beloved sport.
There’s been much discussion about changing the team culture of the Australian cricket team – it was one of the reason’s Lehman gave for finally resigning. The sad truth though, is that strong sanctions will only go part of the way to deterring further such incidents and transforming the team culture from what might be described as a mix of childish behaviours – self-absorbed, irresponsible, win-at-all-costs and entitled.
Australian Cricket needs to put in some hard yards to get to the root cause of the problem, or they put long-term success at risk. To achieve the truly winning culture they are after they must build mature, accountable and resilient leaders, who demand the highest standards of ethical behaviour, work effort and playing performance in themselves and the people they lead.