We're only in the second month of the new year and already
evidence of systemic corruption in high-profile sports has
hogged the headlines.
Corruption is the dishonest or fraudulent conduct of those in
power, and sport is all about power.
The revelations regarding Lance Armstrong's doping career
while riding a bike suggested doping in cycling was prolific,
but cycling is not an exception to the rule when it comes to
the seedier side of sport.
An investigation into match-fixing in European football
uncovered more than 380 suspicious games, 8 million ($NZ12.8
million) in betting profits and 2 million in bribes to
players and officials.
The Australian Crime Commission's report into sports
corruption mentions organised crime, match-fixing and
widespread drug use and doping programmes in some sports, and
the claims and counter-claims surrounding the Sonny Bill
Williams and Francois Botha debacle creates a perception that
not even the ''pure'' sport of boxing down under is untouched
by the corruption virus.
It would be naive to believe that all forms of sport are pure
pastimes, but why is the rot coming to the surface now?Some
versions of sport (usually power and performance sports which
attract a lot of media attention) are multimillion-dollar
businesses, and are intimately connected to political,
social, cultural, and private interests.
So much goes on behind closed doors, and behind the ''stage
curtain'' to portray these sports as pure despite the vulgar
Thus, the scene is set for corruption opportunities to
thrive. Referees and players can take bribes, club owners
demand kickbacks for player transfers, companies and
governments can rig bids for construction/event contracts,
and all individuals involved in this sport/money-making
machine are willing to push the limits (doping) and take
control of the outcome (fixing).
For years, this corruption has gone unchecked and unpunished,
but in a world where the boundaries between private and
public no longer exist, the demands for transparency and
accountability have escalated.
An organisation known as Transparency International, for
instance, was established in 1993 by a few individuals who
decided to take a stance against corruption, and now the
movement is present in more than 100 countries and they work
to stir the world's collective conscience to bring about
Sport is one area of focus for this organisation. Corruption
occurs in many aspects of society, so sport should be no
Where there are big bucks to be made and exchanged,
corruption won't be very far away. What is the solution? Are
there any far corners of this phenomenon sport that are not
corrupt?Participating in sport for pleasure rather than
profit can promise a fairer game but then again, there might
be a bit of friendly bribery going on between mates even if
the game takes place in the back yard.
Elite sports that struggle for media attention, or that are
not largely dependent on state or private funding may be less
likely to turn sour, and many of the sports in the spotlight
of the corruption police tend to be hyper-masculine sports
such as football, rugby league and boxing.
But all is not lost. Transparency International suggests much
can be done to break the ties between sport and corruption.
They call for transparency and openness with regards to
decisions, policies, constitutions and codes of conduct.
Easier said than done, but the same expectations for
governance and management practices in political and business
situations should also be expected of professional sport.
They also suggest governments, agencies and sport
organisations make a collective effort to prevent or at least
stem the spread of corruption. Hence the surge of revelations
recently that sport is not as virtuous, honest and pure as it
When asked recently if he thought New Zealand rugby was free
of drugs and doping practices, Sir John Kirwan answered
pragmatically that he didn't think any sport was clean.
Wise words from a man who is not afraid to admit there are
chinks in his armour, as well as in sport.