How many times does a belief have to be shaken, be taken into scandal, rightly dragged through the mud, before you cease to believe?
That is the question in the minds of sports fans right now. Certainly in the mind of this particular sports fan.
Yesterday’s WADA report was just the latest in a long line of major sporting scandals. The worst part is not actually the alleged symptomatic doping by the Russians, which tells you just how low this whole sorry affair goes, how can that not be the worst part? No, the worst part is the inaction, and incompetence of the IAAF.
Prior to that though we have had the Lance Armstrong affair in cycling, where again the governing body has been accused of a level of complicity, the FIFA scandal in football, the ICC (cricket) is run by Narayanaswami Srinivasan who has been banned from running his own national body in India, Bernie Ecclestone, F1, had to settle on a bribery charge, our own beloved rugby is also under scandal with Premiership Rugby’s handling of the salary cap affair. Hell, even snooker has been rocked. Players have been handed out bans for fixing/throwing games.
The IOC is only recently out of the water having had to expel 6 of its members back in 2002 over the Salt Lake City Winter Games bid. It at least has acted and appears to be on the mend. Though as the WADA report shows, that has not stopped athletes from sullying the name and reputation of the Olympic Games.
When will governing bodies learn that to govern is not to brush scandal under the carpet, or to act corruptly. Governance is not to protect the sport by hiding scandal; governance is to rid your sport of those causing scandal.
It is hard to maintain faith in sport, any sport, when the participants are cheating you, be that through doping, financial ‘doping’, or whatever else. It becomes nearly impossible when the governing bodies themselves effectively become complicit, be that through inaction, brushing things under the carpet, or any of the myriad of FIFA’s issues.
How can we trust what we watch when even those whose job it is to protect what we watch seem to be a part of the problem?
Do those at the top of sport not understand that their sport, their organisation, their specific jobs, only exist because of us, the spectators. We buy the tickets, pay the TV subscriptions, buy the replica shirts that fund their entire world. Without the spectators, live or on TV, they have nothing to govern. When the money runs out, the teams and players cease to exist. Sure, they take in hundreds of millions, billions in the case of some sports, in sponsorship money, but they must surely realise that that money comes in because of the number of viewers of their sport or event.
What makes sport so special is that it is something we can all relate to, we can all imagine, or have experience of, playing these games that we watch. We feel connected. It is about the stories and heroes that it creates, those immortal moments of quality. That feeling of nervousness and excitement, the hairs standing on the back of your neck, the elation and disappointment, all that and just as a spectator.
When we can no longer believe in sport, all of that disappears. We are left just watching a bunch of strangers play a game in which the winner might as well already be pre-determined.
So how do we go forward? Some will say we just have to retain the faith, keep watching, keep enjoying. It is the only way to retain sanity, and it is the only way to be true to those competitors and teams, and governors, who go about their business properly and honestly.
We have been there before though. I say question everything. Demand more. Not viciously, the clean must be able to enjoy their victories, but we are entitled to demand that our sports deliver true results, that they are governed properly. As sports fans we are entitled to be able to trust what we are seeing. Then, and only then, can we genuinely be true to those competitors and teams who go about their business properly and honestly. For when we do that, slowly but surely they will be competing in a fair and honest environment.
How sport should be. It is, after all, just a game. I want the young rugby players that we cover to be able to play rugby or any other sport, and perhaps go on to the professional game, in a world where they are competing on a fair, clean, and properly governed basis.
Is that so much to ask?