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Sun 20 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Briatore isn’t the worst cheat of all time

Until sport returns to being just about sport, Flavio's ilk will always be around, scheming, says Damian Reilly.

All crime is theft. Flavio Briatore stole a race. And now the world knows what he did, he is being labelled the biggest cheat who ever drew breath in the history of sport. If it is true - if he really is a bigger cheat than, say, cricket's ball tamperers and athletics' drug takers and tennis' match fixers and boxing's ear biters - then it is quite an achievement.

Briatore's plan to allow Fernando Alonso to win the Singapore grand prix was a piece of Machiavellian genius by anyone's reckoning. Get Nelson Piquet to crash early in the race at turn 17, where it would be optimally difficult for stewards to winch his car to safety quickly, make sure team mate Alonso had more fuel in his car than any other driver at the time, and then sit back and watch as all rivals' race tactics came to nought in the lengthy safety car induced chaos. Alonso went from last to victory lane, exactly as scripted.

It was a dastardly act, sure, but wasn't it rather brilliant too?

Yes, yes I know, lives were at risk. People could have been killed. Formula One cars are very fast. Accidents happen, fatal ones at that, without the help of people crashing cars about the track on purpose. Forget the fact that anyone who gets into a Formula One car knows they are putting their life at risk, the wreckage of Piquet's car could have caused a multi-car pileup. Stewards, too, those trying to remove the car from the track could have been killed or injured. Who knows what could have happened?

The thing is, Formula One has a long, and in its own way, rather distinguished history of cheating. Michael Schumacher drove Damon Hill off the track deliberately in 1994 in a bid to secure a world championship, and tried to do the same thing to Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. People could have been killed both times. Is Briatore's crime any worse?

And as for multi-millionaire Piquet, who seems to be being depicted as the sacrificial lamb in Briatore's master plan, powerless to do anything but acquiesce when asked to drive into a wall at 200kph, is he not really just as guilty as Briatore? I believe I know what my response to any such request from my employer would be. It would be a short response. I suspect you might reply the same way. But Piquet knew what he was doing. The same as Lewis Hamilton knew what he was doing when he lied earlier this season to stewards on McLaren's orders.

Much of the bleating is about Team Renault losing sight of the fact they were engaged in a sporting event - that they chased commercial profit ahead of medals at any cost. Is that not a little laughable in a sport where teams are handicapped by the amount of money they have to spend on their cars? The playing field in Formula One stopped being level many years ago. Add to that that the financial rewards for winning a single point are massive, and are we really talking about sport and not business?

Also comic is the idea that cheating can be graded, that Flavio Briatore is somehow the king of all cheats for throwing, a bit recklessly admittedly, a race. Cheating is cheating. Personally, I have always thought the rugby players who deliberately stick their thumbs up to the knuckle into opponent's eyes are the worst. And what about the masterminds behind the East German doping programmes in the seventies and eighties that have left many athletes virtual cripples today?

Sure Briatore cheated, and good riddance to him, but until sport goes back to being just about sport, his ilk will always be in the backrooms, scheming.

Damian Reilly is the editor of Arabian English.

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