More often than not, cheating in sport is pretty distasteful, if not downright disgusting.

There’s not much humour to be found in the cases of Lance Armstrong, East German and Russian state-sponsored doping, footballers’ play-acting or the Spanish para-basketball team faking their disabilities.

But just occasionally, there are cases of cheating within sport that are so badly executed, they’re hilarious.

One such ridiculous case happened in recent days in a refreshing interjection to the seemingly constant flow of pretty distasteful cheating news that floods the airwaves.

This particular cheating scandal, if you can describe something as rudimentary as this case in that way, occurred in college football (as in American football) in the US and involves the Michigan Wolverines side.

It has, this week, incredibly developed into one of the most widely-covered cheating scandals of the year.

Michigan, who are unbeaten this season having stormed to an 8-0 record so far, have been accused of “sign-stealing”.

In short, this means the team has been breaking the league’s rules on what you can and can’t do when it comes to noting the “signs” other teams use to relay information and tactics between players.

The NCAA rules do not directly ban the stealing of signs. But there are rules against using electronic equipment to record an opponent’s signals.

Which is the problem; Michigan’s coaches have been sneaking off to watch the other teams in the league and covertly, or not so covertly as it turns out, recorded their signs in the hope this insider knowledge will give Michigan’s players an advantage over the course of the league season.

Sign stealing is, allegedly, ubiquitous within the NCAA. But Michigan’s representatives were apparently so bad at executing their plan – they were using things like their public Venmo account on their phones to do the recordings – they’ve been caught doing something that should be easy to do covertly.

So obvious were their attempts to break the rules, a fan message board picked up on their actions almost a year ago, but no one in authority cared or believed enough to take any action.

It’s now been revealed that the FBI is involved, bringing yet another layer of ridiculousness to a story that, on the face of it, seems fairly incidental.

If little else, this tale highlights, yet again, just how off-the-scale huge US college sport is.

It’s hard to imagine Scotland’s top layer of police officers getting involved in too many of the dealings of say, the St Andrews University hockey team.

What this cheating scandal also emphasises is never, ever take the moral high ground. Because it’ll come back to bite you.

Michigan had painted itself as the side in the league better than all others when it came to doing the right thing. 

They did, they implied, things the right way, something that no other team wanted, or was even capable, of doing.

They screamed about how they were the only team not cheating.

Except they were. 

And that’s why everyone has been out to get them.

Which is a lesson in itself.

While this may be the most recent cheating farce, it’s not the only one that’s so far into the territory of ludicrous, it’s absolutely delightful.

There’s the case of Rosie Ruiz who, in 1980, broke her marathon personal best in New York by almost half an hour to cross the finish line in two hours 31 minutes 56 seconds, becoming the third-fastest female marathon runner in history.

She wasn’t, though, the third-fastest.

She had, in fact, joined the race just one mile before the finish line, which is probably why she looked remarkably fresh even after clocking such an outstanding time.

And there’s the two anglers in Ohio who, last year, won a fishing tournament, picking up almost $30,000 for their efforts. 

But suspicion was raised when it was noticed their fish were considerably heavier than fish of a similar size usually are.

It turned out the pair had stuffed their fish with weights, making them disproportionately heavy for their size.

They were disqualified.

And, in the 1990s, there’s the jockey who, on a particularly foggy day, decided to drop out of his race soon after the start before re-joining it, unnoticed due to the poor weather conditions, to go on and win his mile-long event at Louisiana's Delta Downs Racetrack.

Suspicion was raised as a result of the 23-1 long-shot beating the rest of the field by 24 lengths. He was suspended from the sport for eight years.

And so, while cheating is, without question, the scourge of sport, there are more than a few cases that are so ridiculously poor attempts at beating the system, they’re hilariously funny.



The news this week that Laura Muir is planning on running at the World Indoor Championships, which begin next March in Glasgow, is extremely welcome news.

Muir is an absolute titan of Scottish sport and someone who so rarely is afforded the opportunity to race on home soil.

The Herald: Laura Muir

There’s something about watching these superstars in real life that can provide a level of inspiration for young athletes in the sport that watching them on television never can.

I still remember watching Sally Gunnell, Colin Jackson, Jonathan Edwards and Linford Christie at the Kelvin Hall in the early 1990s. I still have their autographs somewhere.

There’ll be countless young athletes, and especially young girls, who will long remember watching Muir if she does, injury-permitting, make it onto the start line at the World Indoors next spring in Glasgow.

And for Muir herself, it’ll be a welcome opportunity to win silverware on home soil in what will, most likely, be the final chance of her career to do so.