Dear SKINS fan,
Can we truly believe what we’re watching any more?
You all know that I’m a sports nut. I love watching competitive action that highlights the honourable, tactical and sometimes lawfully aggressive battles between teams, players, and riders. But right now, as sports fans, we can all be forgiven for wondering whether we’re just being conned.
Recently, a commission in Australia reported widespread drug use in Australian professional sport across multiple codes, with some athletes even being given substances not yet approved for human use. The year-long investigation has identified organised criminal networks which have been involved in distributing the drugs to athletes and support staff. These revelations were published just as the world was digesting another investigation into match-fixing in soccer. I’m not a lone voice when I say that it all worries me greatly.
Of course, the two investigations aren’t isolated cases. These days, the news wires are full of revelations about drug taking, the use of performance enhancing substances, and betting scandals across a whole raft of top-line sports and we can be forgiven for wondering whether ANYTHING we watch these days is genuinely underwritten by the purity of the winner. As a fan, I simply do not want to witness a world-class performance and then question whether it was genuine or not; but these days like a lot of people, I’m already wondering where it will all end?
The investigation by European police into the latest football scandal, uncovered a Singapore-based betting cartel and identified 380 games that were believed to have been fixed. At least 425 referees, players and officials are suspected of involvement and the reason for all this of course, is money. The police have said over $11 million in profits was made from betting on the games in question.
And that is the fundamental issue with all of these mind-blowing stories. Money. It’s ironic that the one thing that professional sport covets above all else, is in danger of bringing it down. The eternal chase for competitive perfection requires the best players and the best equipment. With each passing moment, a team, a player, an athlete is looking for that one tiny advantage and each time, the stakes are raised. The chase becomes more expensive and sponsors throw in more money as their visibility as part of that chase becomes sexier and potentially more rewarding. And such are the rewards, the conmen are lapping it up too. It’s an amusing metaphor to use in this context, but it’s like a drug.
And there you have it; a self-perpetuating cycle of challenge, attainment and reward that now drives people to cheat in the quest for riches. Whether it’s taking a performance enhancing drug or a bribe, it all leaves the sports fans either duped or suspicious of being duped.
As a single entity, sport has always openly moralised about its social benefits and its integrity. That’s absolutely fine and it’s how it should be. The view that sport is wholesome and that our children should be encouraged to play or compete is perfectly reasonable too and it’s one I support wholeheartedly. We need to acknowledge though that there are other influences that sport has on our young and this is where it becomes so concerning.
Sport has been on a slippery slope ever since it started to embrace companies ready to throw substantial riches in their direction. The money enables the pursuit of perfection and the pursuit of perfection increases commercial visibility as well as the sums of money from the sponsors. The cycle perpetuates itself and the higher the prize, the more tempting the short cuts are.
Amongst these nefarious activities, it has always struck me as being singularly odd – perverse even, that sports should embrace commercial relationships that are morally questionable. Clearly, the financial opportunity outweighs the corporate social responsibility. Companies promoting tobacco, alcohol and gambling have all been – or continue to be – a part of the scene. Their money gets taken because it feeds the cycle. Sport has never adequately reconciled such associations but it may well be on the verge of paying for them.
The commercial influence is a subject I want to develop next time. But for now, as I see it, sport is in danger of implosion. The Australian investigation, the European report, the UCI’s manipulation of cycling…all this and more is in danger of turning genuine, enthusiastic sports fans who want nothing more than honest competition, into cynics. World governing bodies have to act – and act now…or the last person in the stadium might as well switch off the lights.
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