The dirty side of sport
There are those who would suggest that the legacy of sport is as much about dirtiness as it is about success.
The Greeks were suspected of using drugs to attain success in the Olympics of antiquity. Some scholars suggest that discrimination against women was rampant and that the Games reflected the social class divisions in the area at the time.
There are some who would also suggest that one of the founding fathers of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a French aristocrat, sought to establish the Games out of a philanthropic ideal but which nonetheless featured amateurism if only because this was consistent with his own ideological class position and that of the people of his own economic standing around the world.
An analysis of the selection of individuals to become members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), for decades, reflected a particular bias towards aristocrats, nobility and the wealthy. Somehow it appears that there was a feeling that these people would be the best to oversee the organisation from an objective standpoint, given that they needed nothing for themselves.
Football has always featured hooligans. In the 19th century, social researchers sought to address the matter of hooliganism in English soccer, a feature that remains most bothersome to this day.
Match-fixing has become quite prominent in sport. This is nothing new.
The sport of kings, horseracing, has long since been tainted by the eagerness of trainers, grooms and jockeys to win when the longest odds are available and lose at short odds.
Sport has long since been tainted. Today it is the media’s pervasiveness that seems to so highlight the negative activities in sport that we tend to believe that we are witnessing new phenomena. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Win at all cost
While many have been anxious to advertise sport as an activity that is intended for all, the reality proves something quite different. Sport leaders all around the world appear to speak as the Amerindians described it, ‘with forked tongue’. They speak profusely about participation as the critical component of sport while insisting that their athletes focus on winning. Everywhere the coaches urge their athletes to strive for success.
We have grown accustomed to phrases like, ‘winning is everything’; ‘nobody likes a loser’.
Interestingly, here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, several students have complained that from the time they were capable of participating in sport the teachers responsible for sport only showed interest in those students who already possessed a certain aptitude for this or that particular sport.
Indeed some students have complained that the focus has been so much on winning the competitions organised at the national level that those who had to be taught any sport from scratch were immediately set aside and encouraged to do something while the talented were taken through the paces required for the team’s success. Thus we have had many a student who went through the entire local school system and n ever once engage din any form of sport, not that they did not want to do so but because they were always marginalised. Some teachers simply did not take the time to engage them long enough to allow them to know and love sport. Participation was therefore really not an option.
This emphasis on winning at all cost meant the disenfrancishing of many a student in our country.
Later on in life we expect that students who have been turned off sport should somehow become sufficiently interested as spectators to make the hosting of sporting events in our society successful.
There seems little realisation by those in authority of the extent to which they are themselves responsible for the declining interest in sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines, a very small society.
In economic circles pundits have lauded the rapid growth of the sport industry. It has long since been described as one of the fastest growing industries in the global economic environment.
The US has led the way with some fantastic salaries being paid to athletes in American Football, Baseball, Basketball and Ice Hockey. Golf and Tennis have joined the line of major income earners for athletes. The success of franchise holders in respect of accessing television rights and mega sponsors have facilitated huge salaries that just seem to keep climbing. Interestingly, unlike the corporate sector, little attention is paid to the income levels of the franchise holders.
At the Olympics, the ideals have been turned on its head as the shift towards commercialism thrives best in a television-friendly atmosphere.
The income from television rights has revolutionised almost every sport. No sport has been exempt. Everywhere the different sporting disciplines have come to the realisation that television generates tremendous income.
The expansion of international wrestling has been perhaps the best example of what good television coverage can do for the economic success of any sporting activity and the later does not even have to be genuine.
At the global level television has also changed several sports. Table Tennis has changed the colour of the ball from white to orange, allowed for fewer points in a game and the service changes more quickly. Cricket has shifted to the One Day International with coloured clothing and a white ball then to 20/20 with changed rules.
We can point to a long list of changes that have taken place in sport as a direct result of the impact of television and the drive towards the commercialisation of sport.
Commercialism has been the boon of the sporting industry. In the process however it has also brought along with it an increasing desire on the part of franchise holders, managers, coaches and athletes to win at all cost.
In the Caribbean we have witnessed the increasing demands of the cricketers on the West Indies team for better contracts. The region has been insistent on linking their income to the fortunes of the team. However the latter quickly point to the fact that they are part of a global enterprise that is Cricket and the West Indian players cannot be isolated from the trends elsewhere in the industry.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines the media has not caught on to the rapidly changing world of sport. The media remain a rather lethargic bunch hoping only to cash in when it appears that the events are attractive enough that they are likely to engage a sufficient number of sponsors to allow for some income. There is no initiative on the part of the media to impact the way sport is delivered in the country.
The drive for success and winning at all cost has led to the use of drugs in sport. Athletes as far back as historians can determine athletes have been involved in the use of substances that are considered capable of facilitating a competitive edge over their colleagues.
The problem has always been the capacity of administrators to detect the substances being used by athletes to attain success or lack thereof.
In today’s world the IOC has virtually coerced international federations (IF) into the establishment of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) the bastion of the global fight against the use of drugs in sport.
WADA now expends millions of dollars annually in research aimed at identifying newer substances even before they are used. The BALCO incident has however shown just how difficult this task is. In the case of Victor Conte’s designer drugs concoction it took the best laboratories available to the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) several weeks before they could have determined the precise contents of the drugs and their impact. Indeed, had coach Graham not delivered the syringe to the USADA indicating that it was being used t=for performance enhancing purposes, it is doubtful that the organisation and the WADA would ever have detected it in the systems of Tim Montgomerie and Marion Jones or any of the other athletes who were using the drugs supplied by BALCO.
Cyclist Landis remains insistent that he was taught to use drugs by Lance Armstrong who continues to deny his own involvement in the use of performance enhancing drugs.
The world was shocked when as the end of the last millennium drew near then IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, suggested that all existing world records be quashed and the new millennium witness a fresh start.
Many wonder whether Samaranch was in any way suggesting that most of the world records were tainted by the use of performance enhancing drugs.
The fixing of sports events to determine the winner at any given point has been around for many years. Jockeys have been quite adept at this particular activity and forced the introduction of the most sophisticated technological equipment very early by comparison, to address this problem.
In most countries across the globe the fixing of sporting activities have been criminalised.
In the recent past Football and Cricket have been highlighted for match fixing. The media have been quick to bring these activities to the attention of the unsuspecting public.
Match fixing may well have been in Football for a long time if only because of the number of years it has been the object of legal gambling around the world.
In Cricket the gambling has apparently been an illegal activity for some time and only recently been made legal.
We have witnessed the growth of the game of Cricket in Asia. The lucrative ICL that was quickly overtaken by the more lucrative IPL, which received international support from the International Cricket Council, may well have ushered in a new era in the sport. It was only a matter of time before reality set in and the hidden agenda become clear.
South African captain, Hansie Cronje, considered by many to be the best ever from that country and one of the finest ever to grace the sport, was banned for life in 2000 for his role in match fixing involving his great team. There were revelations awash as the authorities investigated him and teammates Herschelle Gibbs and Nicky Boje and Pieter Strydom. His appeal in September 2001 failed when it was dismissed one month later.
Following Cronje’s untimely death in an airplane crash in June 2002, many believe that Cronje was murdered for his involvement in the fixing of matches. The death of Bob Woolmer, then Pakistan’s coach, while with the team in a Jamaican hotel during the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean again raised further suggestions that match fixing has its sordid aspects.
Interestingly, Adam Sorres’ novel, Raffles and the Match-Fixing Syndicate, addresses the issues surrounding this sordid aspect of the sport of cricket.
Whatever about the drive to highlight the positive aspects of sport today, the evidence reveals the greater trend towards eager access to the more depraved aspects that leaves mankind in much more than a spot of bother regarding what we continue to make of ourselves and the legacy we leave for future generations.