‘Legalise’ graft and exam cheating?

Exam cheating

Exam cheating is yet to be eradicated

Photo credit: Shutterstock

A contrarian article in the lifestyle publication InsideHook on December 12, 2022 looks at the vexed issue of doping in sports following the recent suspension of 25 Kenyan athletes by the Athletics Integrity Unit, many for suspected doping.  Entitled ‘Is it time we just accepted doping as part of sports?’ it explored the arguments for continuing the ban on doping and those in favour of letting it be.

It goes much further, however, and argues that doping – if seen as gaining an unfair advantage in sports – is far more than just taking performance-enhancing drugs and steroids. There are advantages conferred by wealth. Athletes from wealthy countries can afford to use hyperbaric chambers.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps with quick recovery from injuries and has several other benefits for sportspeople, including increasing physical performance and mental strength.

In fact, a poor sportsperson using garden-variety steroids will easily be beaten by a rich one who gets high-end hyperbaric therapy – although the latter won’t have ingested anything and be deemed to be acting legally.

Increase performance

A hyperbaric chamber costs tens of thousands of US dollars, and a single treatment will set you back between $250 and $600. If you aren’t in Eliud Kipchoge’s elite league, you won’t even be thinking about it.

Carbohydrate loading, which is legal, and involves a high intake of carbohydrates a week or so before a high-endurance sports activity, can increase performance significantly. Needless to say, there is a difference between the carbs made in an off-grid factory in Mlolongo, which a local athlete who isn’t rich yet can afford, and a highly engineered one from a laboratory in San Francisco that costs thousands of dollars.

These disparities range across many sports, so in tennis, the difference between your ordinary racket and a top-end hi-tech one is like day and night. In cycling, the same colossal gulf can be seen between bicycles.

The result of the competition to be better, or level the playing field, means a record 3,000 athletes test positive for banned substances — which build muscle mass, improve oxygen uptake, or increase stamina — every year. I would hazard that because the technology is running ahead of the doping tests, it is likely that another 3,000 are cheating and not getting caught.

Supporters of ending doping bans argue that it would be equivalent to legalising marijuana. It makes it safer, brings down the cost, and equalises matters a little bit by removing the advantages more affluent sports people and nations have over poorer ones.

Some social good

Reading the article, one couldn’t help but think of other ways reforming rules about cheating could have some social good and be egalitarian. It might be too much for the virtuous to contemplate, but what if we allowed all students to cheat at examinations?

Right now, children from richer families have many academic hyperbaric chambers and intellectual carbohydrates that they load on for examinations that their poorer peers don’t have: they live in neighbourhoods with cleaner air, they have electricity and computers, coaches, refrigerators full of food when their poor rivals are going hungry, they are dropped off in cars and thus arrive at school for their exams not exhausted, and their parents play golf with the big chiefs from the exam council and are better placed to get the tests leaked to them.

Allowing everyone to cheat could reduce the advantage the children of the elite have over those of the poorer masses.

A few tweaks would have to be made to how the exams are set, but decriminalising cheating would essentially turn the exams into open-book tests that lawyers, to name just one group, already do.

In my more idle moments, I have often wondered if decriminalising corruption, that scourge of Africa, might not be revolutionary.

Corruption regime

Corruption is an extremely iniquitous activity. You need to either be related to the president and powerful people in his/her government, be from a politically influential tribe that has numbers that get it to the political table (not from one that can be ignored because its votes don’t change the electoral scale); be from the right party, and sometimes from the right race and religion.

Like in all the other areas, an open corruption regime will inevitably bring down the cost you pay to the police officer at the roadblock or to the magistrate because the “going rate” will be known. Additionally, if you can legally cheat on paying your trade licence, the municipal authority will have to treat you much better to get you to pay even a little willingly.

If I were a president, I would legalise corruption through incentives. I would tell the fellows at the Ministry of Education, “Okay, we need to build 1,000 classrooms this year. Here is Sh2  billion for it. I don’t care how much you spend, just build the bloody classrooms, and you can eat the savings”.

You would have a level of efficiency never before seen on earth. They will build the 1,000 classrooms not just on time but for less than Sh1 billion and share the “surplus” fairly and without fear of jail.      

The author is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”.  Twitter@cobbo3