Runners competing in the Comrades Marathon pass through Kloof.

Cheating in sport for victory or podium places is disgraceful. But it is understandable: cash rewards, rankings, fame and possible sponsorships are overpowering lures for some.

But dishonesty to place deep on a list of 11 000 finishers? It is incomprehensible.

It turns out that five Comrades Marathon entrants, who supposedly finished well down in the field, have admitted deceit and returned their medals. Thirty-one more are to face hearings.

Comrades has had scandals where rascals have falsely claimed gold medals. But they have been fairly isolated up until now, and have failed to sully the ethos of the great race.

There has always been an aura of honesty about the event, a spirit of endeavour upheld by the many thousands who have successfully completed their own, life-changing journeys.

On the up-run, there are five major hills in the climb to Pietermaritzburg. There is no way around them, the exhaustion and pain cannot be avoided – for the honourable 99.99 percent. For those who do not finish by the firing of the 12-hour gun, there is ache and real heartbreak – and no recognition.

All sports require honesty, even those watched by thousands in crowded arenas. But certain sports types, like ultra-distance running and golf, can by their nature be susceptible to cheats.

Motives for ordinary runners to cheat the Comrades will probably vary. One fellow, who claimed a top 10 place many years ago, apparently did it to impress his father. Runners in the middle and rear of the field might do it to win admiration for another completion, and accelerate the award of another prize: a green, permanent number.

Athletics bosses and the Comrades Marathon Association should ponder whether the return of a medal is sufficient. Runners who dishonour this event should be disqualified from all past and future races, erased entirely from the records.