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Corruption in sport

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The phrase “corruption in sport” is the very antithesis of everything that sport offers to all who participate—players, spectators, officials, the media. All sports lovers are brought up on the purity of sport and we embrace the champions, not only for their prowess but their sportsmanship. Sport throws up an unending stream of international role models who have a profound effect on society, especially young people and we are all uplifted by their deeds and inspired by them, more so if they display the Corinthian values.



The fundamentals of sport embody the concept of fair play: an acceptance of the rules of the game and a natural abhorrence of cheating. In addition, it is widely accepted that sport encompasses a wide range of qualities and virtues that carry important life-lessons for all of us. It is hardly surprising therefore, that anything which compromises the positive influences of sport would cause great concern.


In the past decade a number of scandals across many sports have hit the headlines thus threatening the image and integrity of sport in general.



Reported incidents have included a wide range of sports and in different countries across the globe—badminton, volleyball, sumo wrestling—and not necessarily high-profile games. In this period, over 60 countries have initiated investigations into football match-fixing and there are reports that about 15 Bulgarian club owners and four journalists were killed during this period! Is this all a completely new phenomena?


In his book Beyond the Boundary, CLR James expresses his disappointment at the reports of match-fixing in American College Basketball in the 1950s. His disdain for those players who took part in the practice of “points shaving” is apparent and suggests that this may have been his first encounter with structured cheating.


Surely there had been betting on sporting events before, but the deliberate arranging of a result of a contest or staging a specific incident in a game is so foreign to the ethos of sport that fans are reluctant to believe that it happens even when they witness an “unusual act”.


It took a long time for the public to accept that athletes were using drugs to enhance their performance and help them win. Back in the 1950s and 60s talk of the labs in the Eastern Bloc or suggestions that “blood doping” was taking place were virtually dismissed as science fiction. Such claims were dismissed as jealousy between nations.


Gradually, the professionalisation of sport raised people’s awareness of the possibilities, the opportunities and the rewards not merely for the performers but for those on the periphery. Sport as a business encourages new entrepreneurs, new businesses and industries.


It also created new interest fuelled through the media and news audiences through television. This further enhanced the opportunities for increased betting, not only for the average fan who enjoyed a wager on events but now there were opportunities for the big time gamblers, the organised gamblers, and not far behind was organised crime.


One tends to see corruption in sport as match-fixing and initial attempts at anti-corruption measures were primarily aimed at the players and to prevent the fixing of results. However, the tentacles of corruption are spread far wider. 



In considering the various opportunities through sport, the range is ever widening; the award of events, for example, the Olympic Games, Football World Cup. The bid process itself generates millions of dollars, including visits to the proposed sites, hospitality and inducements to vote in favour of a particular venue.


Once the games are awarded there are then stadiums and other facilities to be constructed, holiday packages, catering, hospitality boxes, transport, security arrangements and merchandising. Each of these areas may involve the award of lucrative contracts as do the award of television and media rights. These are all legitimate businesses but it is necessary to ensure that there are measures in place to avoid corruption tarnishing the processes.


It is equally important to focus on the governance of the sports bodies to ensure that fair play is expected not only on the field of play. One can only imagine how horrified CLR James would be at the instances of spot-fixing leading to imprisonment of cricketers. Cricket, the gentleman’s game, the epitome of fair play, the game where players are disciplined for breaching the spirit of the game. Even today there are new allegations of corruption in the game which show the need for increased vigilance. 


The International Cricket Council and all the national cricket boards should take another look at the Woolf Report. There is little doubt that it is the champions, the individual sportsmen and women who excel, who become the role models for millions of people, especially the youth, and who also provide the image of the sport. When Jesse Owens won his four gold medals in Berlin 1936, he did much to dispel stereotypes and he gave such hope in the struggle of racial equality.


That hope is also generated in the exploits of the current champions and heroes. Equally, there is disappointment and disillusionment when those victories and efforts are tarnished. The recent cases of Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong bring home the point forcibly. 


It is laudable that sporting organisations across the world continue to strive for greater vigilance against corruption among the athletes and players in match fixing, spot fixing, performance enhancing practices for example, but more needs to be done in terms of governance in sport. The protests in Brazil provide an indication that even among a football-crazed population, the public is aware of the implications of preparing for the World Cup and factors off the field of play that can tarnish the national image. 


The message is clear to other sports, and cricket and the ICC must take heed as indicated by Transparency International in its submission to the ICC on the Woolf Report. We must do better.


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