Would you trust these people to teach your children values?
Within hours of the drug scandal engulfing Essendon this week, I received an email with the subject heading: “Bomber’s new fitness coach.”
Attached was a photo of Lance Armstrong in an Essendon guernsey: a light-hearted, viral response to an increasingly dark national disgrace.
I’ve always had a pretty simplistic (some might say naive) view of sport’s role in shaping young lives: sport will teach them the value of teamwork and discipline; it will introduce them to new friends; and if they’re focussed on being fit, they’re less likely to get into drugs. Like many Aussie parents, I’ve also watched my boys and their mates as they’ve found their feet on the footy field, and wondered if any of them has what it takes to play AFL.
I’ve written before that it’s totally unfair to tar all football players with the same dope-dipped brush.
But it is fair to say that my simplistic views have been severely tested by this week’s bombshell revelations of organised drug-taking across all Australian sporting codes, and the involvement of crime figures in supplying drugs and match-fixing.
And if I had a son in the AFL right now, I’d be banging down the door of the club CEO and demanding assurances that my boy was safe from the kind of hormones they pump into horses, and protected from underworld thugs.
If you think I’m being shrill, consider the Australian Crime Commission’s finding that the infiltration of organised crime and doping by team officials was similar, [itals] but on a bigger scale, [end itals] than what the US Anti-Doping Agency found in the case of Armstrong.
As reported in Friday’s Advertiser, the commission found: “The difference is that the Australian threat is current, crosses sporting codes and is evolving.”
So what must codes like the AFL do now to ensure that punters like me keep buying tickets to matches, are willing to fund sporting arenas like the redeveloped Adelaide Oval, and keep serving up our kids as elite footy fodder?
Sports chiefs can start by taking responsibility for either failing or refusing to detect widespread criminal activity deep within their sporting operations.
(“It came as a shock as we have a very thorough and rigorous testing regime,” was Andrew Demetriou’s initial response to the Australian Crime Commission findings on Thursday. Obviously not thorough and rigorous enough, Mr Demetriou.)
As Patrick Smith wrote in The Australian on Friday, it’s also time to end an “inbred” sporting culture that rewards or blatantly ignores shoddy decisions and wrongdoing at administrative level.
“Easy pickings for organised crime,” he wrote. “If you cherish success more than you do good governance, then you have left the back door open and the safe unlocked.”
Then there’s the insidious issue of betting.
Watch any sport on the telly and it’s obvious the major Australian codes have gleefully fostered a symbiotic relationship between sport and gambling.
I am absolutely repulsed by the idea that my sons’ generation will enter their teenage years believing sport is an iPhone gambling experience.
I agree to a certain extent that a well-regulated industry is preferable to pushing the problem underground or offshore through prohibition, but revelations of organised crime links and match-fixing must surely warrant reining in this runaway $3.3 billion industry.
At the very least, as SA Independent Senator Nick Xenophon maintains, Australia should consider an immediate ban on ball-by-ball (or micro) betting during games. The potential for corruption is simply too great.
Rogue elements are now being told to give themselves up; that there’s nowhere to hide.
Let’s hope that’s true, and that this scandal proves to be a brief aberration – symptomatic of, but not defining the relatively new phenomenon of Australian sport as big business.
In the meantime, Mr Demetriou has urged AFL fans to keep the faith. Sorry – the time for blind faith is well and truly over.
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