Anyone with even a passing interest in sport will be alarmed by the recent revelations about the football/betting in the Sun on Sunday and the National Crime Agency’s confirmation that six people are being held in relation to allegations of spot-fixing.
The Football Association, the Professional Footballers Association, clubs and fans’ representatives have all reacted with horror and concern at these developments, which – as they have each mentioned in their different ways – go to the heart and integrity of what sporting competition is all about.
If the man, or woman, on the terrace cannot be confident that what they are witnessing is honest and ‘straight’, where does that leave soccer – or indeed, any sport?
There is an old saying, I suspect originating in Yorkshire, that ‘where there’s muck, there’s brass [money]”.
Actually, that might be better expressed the other way around: ‘where’s there’s money, there’s muck’.
Wherever there are big bucks to be made, there’s bound to be shady characters, hedge fund-type investors in for a killing, razor-sharp agents taking a cut and betting syndicates that have worked out that a (suitably large) ‘bung’ here or there can net them hundreds of thousands, if not millions.
What did you expect – (I very nearly typed ‘what’s not to like’)?
The average man on the Clapham omnibus – which includes me and you whenever we set off to our chosen sporting venue or settle down in front of the television on a weekend afternoon – is living in a fantasy world if he thinks that everything in sport is squeaky-clean and above board.
Every time a footballer goes down as if shot, clutching his ankle/shin/knee, do you think that he’s actually seriously hurt?
He might be … but the far greater probability is that he’s just been fouled, or nearly was, and is simply trying to ‘assist’ the official to make the right decision, i.e. to award him a free kick.
Is the rugby prop forward who drops on bended knee after a scrum collapse near his own line, thereafter to be tended by a sponge-man, actually injured – or has he gone down in response to a pre-arranged tactic (or instruction from the side line) to do so in order to disrupt and ‘take the sting’ out of the opposition’s attacking momentum?
When the judging panel, referee or umpire makes a seemingly inexplicable decision – a mistake, some might charitably call it – was this merely genuine, allowable, human error … or was it borne of an innate prejudice against a particular sportsman, or even a response to a large amount of money being deposited in a secret bank account and/or blackmail?
Possibly – hopefully – not … but, if you begin doubting any aspect of sport, ultimately, who knows?
All the above noted, however, in my view, the biggest attack upon the integrity of sport does not come from the influence, or potential unsavoury aspects, of the betting world, but from drug-taking.
Whether it is the new suggestion – the clue is in the Humboldt University’s report’s title Doping In Germany from 1950 to Today – that (never mind East Germany) West Germany’s elite sportsmen and women were being systematically doped; or the Lance Armstrong and former Giro d’Italia winner Danilo Di Luca (banned for life for his third doping offence) cycling cases; or horse racing’s Gerard Butler ‘Sungate’ steroids – and other – incidents; or the innumerable track & field positive drugs tests and the completely inadequate dope-testing system in Jamaica … the fact is that sporting drug-taking and doping is rife.
That’s why I’d favour a zero-tolerance (life ban) approach to anyone caught taking drugs, or even failing to comply with drug-testing strictures and requirements.
Regret, remorse, rehabilitation and someone ‘turning their life around’ is one thing – I’m all for it in principle – but, from my viewpoint, the sanctity of sport is far more important.
That’s the reason that I don’t take seriously any athletics event in which any participant, let alone a quarter – or even a half – of them have drugs-test failure pasts.
It’s also the reason why I think it’s regrettable that last weekend The Sunday Times and Sky Sports Sportswoman of the Year 2013 was announced as Christine Ohuruogo – and that’s no disrespect meant to her as a human being per se.