A nation of cheats? MCC steps in to lecture errant kids

Political shenanigans in Westminster should come as no surprise given the extent of the cheating problem emerging from Britain's playing fields, it has emerged.

The briefest look at a new survey looking at the 'win-at-all-costs' generation now working its way through the country's schools shows a cut-throat attitude to achieving victory which many MPs au fait with the darker arts of politics will be very familiar with.

It finds three-quarters of those surveyed believe their team-mates would cheat if they thought they could get away with it. Thirty-seven per cent say they don't care if they won by cheating – and five per cent are happy or proud to have done so.

It's no surprise that children are prepared to do anything to win given the role models they face, according to Conservative veteran Sir Alan Haselhurst. In addition to its commentators "masticating the language", he singles out the beautiful game as being responsible for the shift.

Football is especially damaging, he argues, because children are constantly exposed to examples of players threatening the referee, diving to try and get a penalty and using their hands to try and get a goal. Exactly the sort of behaviour being spotted in the survey.

Now the disease is spreading and may even be threatening our national character. Claiming to catch a cricket ball that bounced was also flagged up. This is unacceptable: it's no coincidence the phrase 'it's not cricket' has emerged to refer to anything underhand or unseemly.

So the MCC and its Chance To Shine campaign are stepping in and launching a nationwide scheme to clamp down on the cheats. Coaches will be delivering assemblies and lessons to around 400,000 children in state schools as part of the MCC's Spirit of Cricket scheme.

"Cricket was started by rich men playing on their estates – there was huge gambling," Haselhurst points out.

"God knows what went on on the margins. Then we had Dr (WG) Grace – he wasn't beyond cheating a little bit. When there is competition, there is temptation."

"It's important that kids playing in the park and at school are taught to play to the highest standards right from the beginning," Haselhurst says.

"You'll get honour and recognition from that, rather than trying to take an advantage to puff yourself up to be better when perhaps in reality you're not."

He is wary of putting the brakes too heavily on children's competitive nature, however. Competition is a cornerstone of Conservative ideology, after all. But Haselhurst insists his enthusiasm for a bit of competition simply comes down to encouraging human nature.

"To say we mustn't have competition and that it's wrong to put pressure on would be going headlong in the wrong direction," he adds. "It's a matter of teaching fair play alongside the whole spirit of the game."