A Perfect 10…Or Maybe Not

Written by: Christie Zervos, Director of Operations, Caveon Test Security

In a time when news is preoccupied with the competitive steroid-juicing of clean-up batters and superstar cyclists, rhythmic gymnastics–the Olympic sport that consists largely of very small women twirling hoops, ribbons, ropes and balls–is hardly a sport that one associates with widespread competitive cheating. Yet, once again, the weird world of competitive sports has thrown us a curveball: The New York Times reported that 60 potential rhythmic gymnastics judges were caught cheating during last year’s elite-level exams for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The alleged cheating occurred last year in testing rooms throughout Europe. Investigations showed that in Romania, “test takers clearly copied off one another’s papers, including the mistakes.” In Spain and Moscow, hundreds of answers were changed. Exam sheets were riddled with “crude markups, blatant copying, [and] unexplained bonus points.” One test had even been filled with two distinctly different handwriting styles.

Case in point: Full-grown professionals are ruining careers, risking jail time and sacrificing personal integrity all in the name of a sport that many people do not know exists. Indeed, this is no surprise to long-time rhythmic gymnastics enthusiasts like Eric Moers who knows the competitive impulse of the game all too well, calling the sport “very ill” and “poisoned from head to toe.” But for those of us peering from the outside in, widespread cheating and corruption in the rhythmic gymnastics world is probably a bit unexpected. When we think of athletic cheating, we often think of it in the categories where cheating has been most popularized–like cycling and baseball. We think of secret doping and multi-millionaires and athletic world dominance. What we sometimes forget is that cheating happens at almost any place competition arises.

This, I think, is not just a reminder for the sports world, but for all of us. As the American philosopher Stephen Hicks notes, “Sports are a microcosm and stylization of life: goal-setting, preparation, effort, character, the integration of mind and body, competition, success and failure. It’s all there in sports, distilled and intensified into a few hours’ experience.”

In other words, there might be some academic take-aways from this case of cheating in the world of rhythmic gymnastics. Like this: We simply can’t be safe in assuming that widespread cheating is only confined to certain grade levels, or classes, or tests, or industries. Cheating is an inherent part of the human condition and serious cases of cheating can be found anywhere, anytime.

The only way to prevent cheating, then, is to monitor cheating, to keep cheaters in check. As numerous studies have indicated, cheating is much less likely to occur when the subjects know they are being monitored.

Though the public’s outrage to the mass cheatings have been a bit wimpy — rhythmic what now? — I think the events have reminded us of an important lesson: If there is competition, there may be cheating. Therefore we must have systems in place to keep all cheaters in check–not just the Lance Armstrongs and Mark McGuires.

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