In recent days a ‘major investigation’ into drugs and organised crime in Australian sport has released a damning report that categorically proves that they go hand in hand. The media is ‘shocked’ but is the public? Are we shocked by this news? I for one am not.
I must admit, however, that I’m a little disappointed to find out that the Australian Rules football club I follow, the Essendon Bombers, is one of the clubs implicated to be at the centre of this ‘controversy’. But what now? Am I to stop following them? There’s doubt hanging over all clubs, so if I’m to stop following the Bombers, am I to stop following AFL? But if I stop following the AFL then what can I follow? Rugby also has drugs hanging over it, while Soccer has serious match fixing allegations hanging over it. As a sports fan, it can only appear to be a disaster! I’d already given up following cycling because of Lance Armstrong. Now do I have to give up sport altogether? Or do I look past all this? Do I give my teams and individual hero’s the benefit of the doubt? Or worse, do I just turn a blind eye?
Already, when I watch the Olympics every four years my assumption is most winners (and losers for that matter) are probably on something. Maybe they’re not? But if I assume that they are, then I’m not disappointed when some of them prove to be and are caught. When a fantastic cricket match occurs that involves an amazing comeback, or huge self-destruction on the part of the team who seemingly had the game in the bag, the first thing that comes to mind nowadays is, “Was the match fixed? Was it staged?” But then I think to myself, I’ll never know, but hey, at least I enjoyed the game! It was after all, good entertainment.
So long as money and sport go hand in hand, so too does match fixing, organised crime and drug use. The stakes are too high for them not to be. Think of it this way. We have police protecting us on the streets and laws that prevent crime from being openly committed. But is crime and drug use eradicated? No. There are many of us out there that chance they’ll get away with it. And many do! Some do not, and they get to fill our prisons up. So if we can’t get rid or drugs and crime in our streets where the stakes are high and the odds poor, how can we foolishly assume we can rid sport of drugs and crime, where the stakes are even higher but the penalties far softer? We can’t. Sure, bring in tougher drug testing, police and govern the sports more closely, I hear the media cry. But even under the strictest totalitarian regimes in history there’s been crime and drug use. The Taliban in Afghanistan, while significantly reducing drug use in their nation, could not for the life of them eradicate it.
And think about this for a second. I’ve injured myself pretty bad from running. So currently I am experimenting with supplements and diet to try and overcome this. Nothing illegal. Everything I get I pick up at the local chemist (drug store). I take NSAIDs such as nurofen. I take a drink formula that contains Chondrite, MSM and Glucosamine. On top of that, I add a multi vitimin, a calcium & magnesium pill and last but not least a krill oil tablet. I do this daily and it all helps. Bit still, my body is not quite there, despite all the hard work I’m doing. So what if a sports physician tells me I can just take one injection daily of a slight variation of this formula and it will allow me to run pain free? It’s not legal yet, but it’s been proven to work. If I don’t try it I may never run again. What are you going to do? It’s not like I’m ever going to win races. Would you try it? Now add all the risks of a professional athlete into it. They’ve given up their day jobs. All they do is compete. They need sponsorship to survive. Now what would you do? It’s not as clear cut as the media and most of the public would think. I don’t condone breaking the law in any way. I don’t condone drug use or drug cheats, but just as we can’t eradicate crime we’re never going to be able to eradicate drug cheats.
So what do we do? The less money involved in a sport the less likely you’ll find drug cheating and match fixing. There’s a reason you often see Ultra runners crossing the finish line hand in hand. The winner doesn’t matter. But even in ultra running as money infiltrates so too will drugs. So keep money out? Get rid of sponsorship and corporate involvement? Go back to amateur sport? Is that possible? No. There is just too much at stake. Too many companies rely on sport. Too many people’s livelihoods are built on it for us to ever go back. But would we want to? Would people go to watch an Olympics only filled with amatuers? I doubt it. If an Olympics with amateurs known not to be taking drugs was held side by side with an Olympics with all our professional stars with the suspicion that some might be taking drugs was held side by side, which do you think the public would go to? But the key word there is suspicion, isn’t it?
The entire sporting industry needs to stand on notice, there is a potential for crowd backlash in the near future. If the current drug scandals are not handled correctly, and suspicion turns into widespread belief, numbers of interested viewers may decrease. It is a matter of the public believing that the authorities are doing their best to reduce the number of cheats and forgetting the fact that those we’re watching most likely are using in some way shape or form. Alternatively, local sport may make a comeback. People might start watching weekend sport again! And, even better, people may return to actual participation once more. Marathon participation is now greater than ever, even though viewers of marathons on TV barely exist. Hardly any marathons make it onto live TV anymore. So could this be the future, where professionals become irrelevant, victims of their own relentless pursuit for success? In some ways, such a future doesn’t actually bother me. But more likely, due to the utter economic dependence so many people and companies have on professional sport being successful, a ‘clean up’ will occur, some poor scapegoats will take the blame, and everyone will move on, happy with the illusion that sport is clean… until the next big expose…