The use of a superior competitor to gain an unfair advantage, known as a “ringer,” is often illegal or unethical. The term may have originated from horse racing. Revealing a ringer’s true identity can lead to disputes and penalties. Skilled players may hide their abilities for tactical advantage.
Ringtone generally refers to the illegal practice of using a clearly superior competitor in order to gain an unfair advantage. A ringer could be a professional athlete, a retired competitor, or a well-trained animal. However, recruiting a ringer specifically for a competition would be considered unethical or illegal, so it’s not unusual for a company or team to hire the professional in an entirely different capacity. The new post office employee, for example, might be a former college track and field star or a retired baseball player. The contestant may qualify technically, but his skills or experience will be kept secret.
There are several theories about the origin of the word, but one of the most popular has to do with the world of horse racing. During the early days of competitive horse racing, some unscrupulous owners deliberately used inferior horses in earlier racing. Once a horse established itself as a perennial underdog, the odds of the horse winning a subsequent race increased dramatically. At this point, with the stakes maxed out, the owner would have traded in for an identical horse with much better speed. Some sources suggest that this practice of changing horses was reminiscent of the old expression “to play the changes”, which meant to announce a replacement. Others suggest that the superior horse was a “dead ringer” to the slower animal, so the imposter became known as the ringer.
Sometimes the identity and skill level of a team’s player remain unknown and the losing team will simply accept defeat at the hands of a superior competitor. Other times, however, the player’s true identity may be compromised and the results of the competition may be disputed. This is one reason why using ringtones to gain an unfair competitive advantage can be very risky. While it may not be strictly illegal to recruit players based on their natural athletic ability, exploiting the rules to qualify a player under false pretenses is generally considered bad form.
It’s not uncommon for an exceptionally skilled player to hide his true skills to gain a tactical advantage over his opponents. An experienced pool player, for example, will often miss relatively easy shots or lose several games to establish himself as an average player. However, as the stakes get higher, he often starts playing at a much higher level and completely dominates the game. A ringer may also have a very plausible cover story to explain his superior abilities, such as previous participation in youth sports programs or high school athletics. The player and his employer must be careful not to reveal too much information before, during and after the competition. The disclosure of an ineligible ringtone may result in the complete cancellation of the competition and other penalties.