We can't handle the idea that sport is no longer just sport
Updated January 21, 2016 09:35:27
We've placed enormous weight on sport, which is why we continue to be shocked every time one of its temples takes a hit from the grubby realities of money, writes Michael Bradley.
The surprising thing about each professional sports scandal isn't the scandal itself, but the fact that anyone is surprised.
This week we were all shocked, shocked, to learn that (a) professional tennis players have been fixing matches for years, and (b) despite compelling evidence of this, the sport's regulators have done nothing much about it.
For the true believers, it's been a rotten few years.
Lance Armstrong is a drug cheat, along with who knows how many other elite cyclists; football is rotten all the way to the top, as is the entire Russian athletics industry and the global body supposedly policing it.
Doping is rampant in Australian football; does anyone really think it started and finished with Essendon and Cronulla? We've known about chronic match fixing in cricket for many years now. Boxing is an ill-concealed joke.
Can you name a sport untainted by drugs or corruption? Only the ones where there's no money.
I like watching sport. One of the best days of cricket I've seen was in 2010 when Australia played Pakistan at the SCG. Coming into the last day, you could get 40-1 odds on an Australian win - it was so certain that Pakistan would get the few runs it needed. But in a miraculous turnaround, the Australians bowled Pakistan out for not much and grabbed a famous victory. It was wonderful entertainment. And, I have reason to believe, it was fixed.
To continue to attach any meaning to the results of sporting contests, we have no choice but to disengage the part of our brain which cries "bullshit".
For us to continue to derive pleasure from professional sport, and fork out the billions of dollars we do on watching it, gambling on it, and buying the merchandise, we are required to engage an increasingly challenging level of cognitive dissonance.
This is because the meaning of sport isn't just the immediate spectacle; the adrenaline rush attached to experiencing the suspense and the extremity of human capability. It's also because of the broader context in which we place sporting performance. We love the statistics; the records; the local derbies and historical personal rivalries; Bradman's unsurpassable batting average; Michael Jordan's untouchable achievements; the triumphs and tragedies of Phar Lap, Tiger Woods, and Les Darcy.
Sport is pervasive through all modern cultures. Its legacies form a critical part of our understanding of what we hold in common and how we connect to our history.
So it is a deeply troubling thing when we learn that all three baseballers who have beaten Roger Maris' legendary 37-year record for home runs in a single season - Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds - did so under a steroid abuse cloud.
Fact is, we can't ever know whether their records are real or a sham. If tennis players have been throwing matches, then the historical rankings are not the reliable records we had assumed them to be.
We do know that we're not allowed to legitimately claim Lance Armstrong's seven Tours de France titles that have been scrubbed, along with the Melbourne Storm's 2007 and 2009 premierships, and Ben Johnson's gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics Men's 100m sprint, known as the "dirtiest race in history".
To further challenge our comprehension of what's real and what's fantasy, the runner-up in that race, Carl Lewis, has never been stripped of the gold medal he was given after Johnson's disqualification, despite it later coming out that he had failed drug tests before the Olympics but been cleared to participate by the US Olympic Committee.
Meanwhile, the women's 400m record is held to this day by Marita Koch of East Germany. Hmmm.
As I say, in order for us to continue to attach any meaning to the results of sporting contests, we have no choice but to disengage the part of our brain which cries "bullshit". And that's a bit weird when you think about it, given that sport has no actual meaning at all.
If ever we acknowledge that it's a house of cards, the whole thing will have no more significance than the manufactured outcomes of reality TV.
To the perennial question, what is the point of sport? The usual answer is that it allows us to escape the drudgery and smallness of normal life and dream, for a bit, of greater things.
Sport elevates our spirits, because what we see is people doing extraordinary, sometimes impossible things, for no reason other than the thrill of achievement. The purity of motivation and intent, coupled with the excitement of competition and buzz of winning or losing, gives us something we can't get any other way.
That's all perfectly true, apart from the motivation bit. The sport we used to watch we now consume; the participants are in it for complex reasons, and the money invested in it is beyond belief. In 2014, the global sports industry was estimated to be worth $US1.5 trillion.
We are not any more witnessing something pure. We are being sold a product.
But what is this product? Most sports played professionally today were developed in the late 19th Century. Each is the result of an accidental series of events and choices, culminating in a set of arbitrary rules which are subject to constant tinkering in the name of fairness and spectacle.
They have no inherent meaning; they're not rooted in theology or nationality; they're just games we invented. Why do we keep records for who can swim the fastest 400m and 800m but not 500m? We do for running 1,500m because that's almost a mile, but it isn't a mile really. And why a mile anyway?
My point is that the meaning was always illusory; just an artificial construct. We've placed enormous weight on, and built massively powerful global institutions around, this construct. It can only hold together in our minds if we believe that it's real. If ever we acknowledge that it's a house of cards, the whole thing will have no more significance than the manufactured outcomes of reality TV.
That's why we continue to express, and convince ourselves that we genuinely feel, surprise every time another temple of sport takes a hit from the grubby realities of what large sums of money will inevitably buy. Our only alternative is to re-engage the rational corner of our brain which is telling us that sport is no longer just sport and that we're being conned.
We simply don't want to go there.
Michael Bradley is the managing partner of Sydney law firm Marque Lawyers, and he writes a weekly column for The Drum. He tweets at @marquelawyers.
Topics:drug-offences, sport, doping-in-sports, gambling
First posted January 21, 2016 08:11:55
Integrity is the integration of outward actions and inner values. A person with integrity does what they say they will do in accordance with their values, beliefs and principles. A person of integrity can be trusted because he or she never veers from inner values, even when it might be expeditious to do so. A key to integrity, therefore, is consistency of actions that are viewed as honest and truthful to inner values.
A sport that displays integrity can often be recognised as honest and genuine in its dealings, championing good sportsmanship, providing safe, fair and inclusive environments for all involved. It will be also expected to ‘play by the rules’ that are defined by its code.
A sport that generally displays integrity has a level of community confidence, trust and support behind them. The impact of this on their business cannot be underestimated.
Integrity in Sport can lead to:
- increased participation - loyalty of members and the attraction of new members
- financially viable - through membership, attraction of sponsors and funding grants
- on field success - attraction of players who want to be associated with a healthy, successful brand.
Activities and behaviours that define sport as lacking integrity include: creating an unfair advantage or the manipulation of results through performance enhancing drugs, match fixing or tanking. Anti-social behaviours demonstrated by parents, spectators, coaches and players are also a significant integrity issue for sport. Such behaviours may include bullying, harassment, discrimination and child abuse.
The integrity of a sport will be judged by its participants, spectators, sponsors, the general public and more often than not, the media. The survival of a sport therefore relies on ensuring that ‘the sport is the same on the outside as it is on the inside’ and remains true to its values, principles and rules.
What is sport ethics?
Ethics is the system that reinforces acceptable behaviours or values thereby ensuring a level of integrity or good character is maintained. Sport ethics helps us see and differentiate right from wrong. For example, we know that a person that handballs a goal in football, and tries to get away with it, is breaking the rules. They break the ethical code of football by being dishonest and cheating. Their integrity is brought into question through their actions. In this sense ‘ethics’ are the overarching systems and concepts that dictate integrity. Such systems in sport include defined values, codes of conducts, bi-laws, rules, policies and the implementation of these policies and rules.
What is sport culture?
Sport Culture or ‘the way we do things around here’, is the brand that presents itself to the public. A healthy culture is generally displayed in those sporting organisations that recognise the paramount importance of maintaining their integrity. This recognition is owned by the leadership group and trickles down through all levels of the organisation. A sport with a positive culture will demonstrate energy, commitment and effort in developing systems to ensure their sport is one that all members are proud to participate in and support. The key to a positive sport culture is consistency of action.