Exposure of the extent of the use of performance enhancement drugs in the various football codes and other sports has had a profound impact.
Associated with this is the existence of what seems to be compelling evidence of match fixing, involving the bribing of officials and players. The two issues cannot be separated.
The vast majority of people are revolted by this. There is a broad sense that this may only be the tip of the iceberg. Most people want decisive action to put an end to this insidious cancer.
So far, a lot of attention has been put on the wrongdoing of players and coaches and officials who have either participated in or turned a blind eye to what has been going on. These individuals are culpable, whether it’s accepting payments for throwing games, or participating in the circulation and use of performance enhancement drugs. Either way, it provides a honeypot to criminal elements, who then extend their influence through many aspects of sport.
Any decent person would agree that this has to be countered. Those found participating must be held to account. If the problem is going to be solved once and for all, this on its own is not enough. While the conditions to corrupt sport remain, it will continue to be corrupted.
Sport as a commodity
The essential problem is that sport has been turned into a commodity. Because of this, it is no longer so much an activity for the development and testing of skill, as it is about manufacturing a package that can be marketed for a large amount of money.
Increasingly, big business runs sporting clubs and teams. Sponsorship is vital, and failure to win threatens sponsorship. Media and advertising barons make squillions out of it, plus the huge merchandising industry. In Australia today, the commodification of sport has created a $9 billion a year industry.
Gambling and corruption
In recent times, a huge gambling industry has grown around spot-betting on various sports. It is a magnet for widespread corruption, and obviously criminal activity. At the elite Olympic level, vast sums are spent wining and dining the sporting code bosses and their flunkies. It gives rise to an atmosphere where of making big money by jumping on the gravy train surrounds every player, and inevitably some will become infected with this outlook. For many of those who have the dominant influence over elite sport nowadays, nothing must get in the way of generating cash flow.
The outlook of capitalism
The difficulty in doing something about this is that the commodification of sport is capitalism at work. Ideologically capitalism is founded on extreme individualism, greed and the sacrifice of all else to individual benefit. It was always inevitable that this outlook would eventually infect sport at the highest levels. After all sport cannot be totally immune from the environment in which it exists.
Return sport to the people
The problem is not uniquely Australian. It exists around the world. Any official action that exposes what is going on and deals with the culprits appropriately is welcome. And we can do something about it on our own turf.
It is important that players, coaches and others take a stand, and that Australians as a whole demand and assert decisive influence to remove sport from the clutches of big business and criminal elements, through its de-commodification. Sport will then be returned to the people.
Other than the obvious promotion of fitness, sport has other positive qualities. It teaches teamwork and helps to build communities. It teaches many skills connected to organising to achieve a common objective and to communicate more effectively to others.
These qualities are important and deserve to be valued. When they dominate, as they do when sport is in the hands of the people, they create an effective barrier against the present problems.