Professional sport is a ruthlessly competitive, win-at-all-costs endeavour. It’s also played by young people who have a relatively short window in which to extract as much financial security as they can for the rest of their lives. It’s these two undeniables that makes the recent ‘revelations’ of match-fixing and doping in football all the more disturbing.
To believe that cricket alone is subject to the pressures exerted by Asian gamblers in illegal betting markets is grossly naïve. To hope that doping practices are confined to endurance cycling is to bury one’s head in the sand.
Football, the biggest sport of all, has, for the most part, been able to brush off the murmurs around these twin sins for generations. We all laughed at the dodgy Italians for their misdemeanours exposed in Calciopoli (not related to betting practices, admittedly) and positive tests for nandrolone in the noughties. These were merely cases of blasé southern Europeans up to their old tricks.
Perhaps more accurately, these were examples of a culture used to corruption in public life weeding out (some of) the bad apples.
Athletics in the 1980s was hideously drug-fuelled. When these practices were exposed they led to damage to the sport from which it is arguably still recovering. New controls were put in place to catch the dopers; some got caught, some didn’t. The sport continues to be dogged by accusations and clouds hang over every podium place.
But why would these practices have been exclusive to athletics? And, after witnessing the damage wrought by such scandals, is it not inconceivable that other sports administrations would seek to avoid such controversy in their own backyards? (that elephant in the room is the International Cycling Union).
If even a niche sport like Australian Rules Football is now starting to grapple with the consistent practices of doping, then we can truly expect a cavalcade of sports to belatedly come clean as the media and public finally wake up to what’s been going on for so many years.
As for match-fixing (or even petty old spot-fixing), I can think of no urine test to discover the veracity or otherwise of sportsmen and women. If it were not for the News Of The World we wouldn’t have known about Pakistanis bowling no balls to order (one of whom had previously been banned for taking performance-enhancing drugs). The International Cricket Council launched investigations into other suspicious games featuring Pakistan, which were implausibly given the all-clear.
We can surmise that the authorities don’t want to know about the problems in their sports. I’m not sure I want to know either. Can we all please go back to a time when Lance Armstrong inspired a lot of people to cycle to the shops?