Is money the root of all evil and sport simply one of its victims?
Everywhere you look at the moment in sport there is corruption, or people breaking the rules. Athletics, football, tennis, boxing, AFL, and cricket to name just a hand full of sports. All have been rocked by drug cheats, match fixing or corrupt administrative practises.
Does it come as a surprise when a new news story breaks, such as the one this week, about tennis players being approached to throw games? Sadly to this writer it doesn’t as players and coaches have admitted being approached and knowing players who have “under performed,” and some have even been told the result of games before they have even started!
Some of us are old enough to remember when tobacco companies sponsored sport. F1 cars were emblazoned with various brands of cigarettes, the best domestic cricket competitions were sponsored by cigarette brands. It was as if the tobacco industry was keeping sport alive.
When it was realised, and proven that smoking was not good for your health and it was irresponsible to have such sponsors there were fears that once they left the sporting arena no other sponsors would come forward, but of course they did.
Now there are understandably calls for betting companies to be banned from sponsoring teams, and probably more importantly sporting broadcasts.
It used to be that punters could simply bet on who was going to win in a sporting contest between two sides, and then maybe what the final score would be and who would score the opening goal, try, or point. Now there are so many options on which you can bet and unlike roulette, where once the wheel starts spinning no further bets are allowed, punters have the ability to bet while a game is being played.
Modern technology no longer means that they have to stand in a smoke-filled betting shop to place their bets, they can do it via tablet, computer or mobile. For those trying to combat the influence of bookies on sporting events the biggest area of concern centres around those betting in “Live markets,” from seats inside the grounds where they get a several second edge over those betting at home, due to the delay in the pictures being transmitted. Now that punters can bet on events as they happen live betting odds fluctuate rapidly with the fall of a wicket, or a bowler being ‘tonked’ in one over, a goal being scored, a player sent off, or a 6-0 win in a set of tennis. Those betting at a live event have an advantage over the armchair punter at home and this is where most of the big money is made, especially if an athlete or a team has been “nobbled.”
Athletes in the main are extremely focused individuals whose sole focus is on winning or achieving. To some winning is everything, defeat is unbearable. Yet once they break through into the top levels of elite sport, doubts can creep in. Are they really good enough? Can they stay at the top in this heady environment? Do they have what it takes?
Intimidation at this level is higher than ever, and comes in so many different guises, seasoned pros sticking together and excluding a new face, sharing information on his/her weaknesses in order to keep him/her out of the team. Or talking within earshot of individual earnings or competitions won, which can intimidate someone still on low income and with few senior victories to their name.
Then injury may strike an athlete down at a crucial time. Some are made all the more determined by the setback, others are riddled with doubts and believe some of the negative responses that surround them. It only takes one “he will never be the player that he was” comment to change a mindset.
Many of these athletes have been dedicated to their sport since a very early age. They have spent every free moment practicing and working on clocking up the 10,000 hours to give themselves a chance of achieving their dream. Some have little, or nothing to fall back on if the sport is taken away from them. To others sport has been their one serious chance to make some money, to set themselves up for life.
It would be easy to say those tempted by the offer of easy money to throw their wicket away, give a penalty away, or drop a set are athletes from poor backgrounds, players with little or no education. However sport has shown that this is clearly not the case. The late Hansie Cronje is a prime example that those looking to corrupt top athletes do not need to target one stereotypical social strata.
Athletes are human beings and every single athlete is an individual, each has their own strengths and weaknesses, each is vulnerable in some way, so to try and target the athletes to prevent this is going to be very hard and is most likely going about it the wrong way.
The cutting out of legitimate betting once a sporting event has commenced is going to be the only way to limit the impact gambling is having on the outcome of games. Gambling has always been linked to sport long before it was legal. TO stop such betting will no doubt drive such betting back underground, and yes, players will still on occasion take a bribe, but it will restrict what the average punter can place a bet on, and therefore limit the winnings and the odds.
Should betting companies be banned from being emblazoned on teams shirts, on pitch side advertising and on television during games? One thing is for sure commentators and presenters should not be discussing odds in the broadcast of games. These advertorials should definitely be banned. There are some who will say sport will not survive if the betting companies are banned. Certainly watching one game recently three successive adverts for three separate betting companies ran back to back, so that argument may carry some weight. Yet when cigarette companies were forced to withdraw it did not have as big an impact as people thought.
Yet it is not just the advertising and promotion of betting where the problem lies.
At the heart of so many sports the administration has been weak or downright corrupt. FIFA is a prime example. When there is corruption at the highest level the right decisions for sport fail to be made.
Using Football as an example, FIFA is a mess. As a result various Football Associations around the world are in breach of FIFA’s own regulations, and yet nothing is done.
Take for example the FFA. On this very issue of betting the FIFA Code of Conduct section 25 reads “Persons bound by this Code shall be forbidden from taking part in, either directly or indirectly, or otherwise being associated with, betting, gambling, lotteries and similar events or transactions connected with football matches. They are forbidden from having stakes, either actively or passively, in companies, concerns, organisations, etc. that promote, broker, arrange or conduct such events or transactions.” Yet the FFA have TAB listed as an official sponsor!
This is an organisation that arranges international fixtures and runs a League competition, and one of their partners is a betting house. How can that ever been seen as acceptable? Is it therefore any wonder that players are approached to “influence” games?
So if the World body fails to abide by the rules, then the national bodies adopt a similar attitude. Then in turn so too do the provincial bodies, such as Football West breaching the Corporations Act by failing to hold an AGM in 2015, which is in fact classed a criminal act. So then the clubs start to take on a similar view and payments are made over and above the salary cap.
The only way that any sport is going to manage to get its house in order is by employing staff who adhere to their own codes of conduct and not only adhere to them themselves, but also police those below them. Strong leadership is vital and then, underpinning that passion for the sport and game knowledge, rather than career administrators who bounce from sport to sport looking for an improved pay-cheque or position. If you have people working in the sport who love the sport, they will fight to protect its integrity and will have the courage to punish those who chose to besmirch the sport.
It will be interesting in the coming years to see the approaches taken by the various sports and which get it right and which don’t.