Lance Armstrong is a cheater and a liar. Mark McGwire is a cheater. Sammy Sosa is a cheater. Roger Clemens is a cheater. And let's not forget that great Canadian cheat, Ben Johnson. I could go on.
The history of sport is full of people who take drugs, lie about their age or gender, and use doctored equipment, pretty much anything short of murder to gain the glory of victory. Why do they do it? Well, glory is a tantalizing thing. Who isn't tempted by the glitz, the girls, the money and the sheer adulation that comes with being on top? The desire for glory, in politics as much as sports, is one of our deepest desires, and is a powerful influence on our action. It's the reason why the threat of cheating is so prevalent in politics as well. To paraphrase our former PM, Brian Mulroney: "we want the adulation" and we're willing to do a lot to get it. We know it's ugly, but we want it anyway.
Which is why the story of Iván Fernández Anaya, a Spanish runner, is so fascinating. Here's the story:
Iván Fernández Anaya was competing in a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre. He was running second, some distance behind race leader Abel Mutai. As they entered the finishing straight, he saw the Kenyan runner—the certain winner of the race—mistakenly pull up about 10 meters before the finish, thinking he had already crossed the line.
Fernández Anaya quickly caught up with him, but instead of exploiting Mutai's mistake to speed past and claim an unlikely victory, he stayed behind and, using gestures, guided the Kenyan to the line and let him cross first.
"He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn't have closed."
"I didn't deserve to win it, I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn't have closed if he hadn't made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn't going to pass him."
It would seem that Anaya chose the satisfaction of truth over the glory of victory. Kind of makes you forget about Lance, his lies, and his bogus apologies, doesn't it? But not everyone was impressed. His coach said, "The gesture has made him a better person but not a better athlete. He has wasted an occasion. Winning always makes you more of an athlete."
It's a rare thing for a man to put aside the honour of athleticism for the ignominy of being a "better person." But, if you look a bit deeper into the article, it appears that even honesty is tainted by the desire for glory. I say this not to downplay what Mr. Anaya did—it was a good thing—but to show that the quest for honour—a vain quest—seems to run deeper than we might otherwise imagine. Here's Mr. Anaya on why he did what he did:
I also think that I have earned more of a name having done what I did than if I had won. And that is very important, because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well.
It would appear that truth can still be bent towards the desire of honour. Anaya here mimics the shepherd who finds the ring of Gyges in Plato's Republic. It would appear that his honest deed was done not for its own sake, but for the sake of honour. Or, as Plato puts it:
Parents and tutors are always telling their sons and their wards that they are to be just; but why? Not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of character and reputation; in the hope of obtaining for him who is reputed just some of those offices, marriages, and the like.
I write this not to downplay the good done by Anaya—his deed was still good—but simply as a caution to those in sport or public work who also care about "being a better person." Sometimes even when we're pursuing the common good, we're still chasing after the wind.