Golden age for corruption in sports

For most people on earth today, sport plays a much larger emotional part in their lives than politics. We vote every four or five years, but we follow our teams every week. Instead of Easter, for instance, we look forward to the Cup final, to the Open, to the Lord’s Test, to Wimbledon and the others.

When England managed to win the Ashes the September before last, London saw much wilder celebrations than at any election.

In Brazilian favelas or South African townships, football is the ruling passion of boys’ lives, quite apart from offering one in every few thousand a possible escape from poverty.

Sport is one of the few things that cut across all lines of class and intellect. But if sport excites us and unites us, it also bitterly disappoints us. Anyone can dream about the good old days, and no doubt most sporting golden ages, like other kinds, are illusory. And yet there is no illusion at all in saying that professional competitive sport is in the throes of a grave crisis. One game after another is stained by corruption, cheating and the horror of performance-enhancing drugs that, in the case of the blood-boosting hormone EPO, can enhance performance while killing you.

On July 7 the Tour de France began in London for the first time since the great race was founded in 1903.

If only this could have been a day for pure celebration. For years bike racing, and the Tour in particular, has been shrouded in a miasma of scandal, with accusations of doping made against half the Tour winners. London mayor Ken Livingstone says that doping is a thing

of the past, which betrayed not so much optimism as plain ignorance.

Just as last year’s Tour was about to begin a lurid scandal broke with the news of an investigation in Madrid into the “sports doctor” Dr Eufemiano Fuentes. Several riders were summarily ejected as a consequence, including the favourites, Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso.

But if cycling is in a bad way, it’s not alone. The Champions League was won this year by a team which should not have been competing at all — the victors, Milan, had been relegated for their part in Italy’s match-fixing scandal. But then the Italian football authorities were persuaded that the punishment was excessive, and Milan allowed back. Every year at MCC dinners, pompous speeches are made and toasts drunk to “the spirit of cricket”, a phrase that may now need reinterpreting. One-dayers are an essential betting medium for the multibillion-rupee south Asian gambling business — and an irresistible source of corruption. One senior British official working in international law enforcement has been quoted as saying he is sure that at least one of the games in the recent World Cup held in the West Indies was fixed.

Moreover, there are ugly overtones to the way European clubs scour Africa and whisk boys in their early teens away from home. The Kenyan runner Stephen Cherono turned up in Qatar as a citizen of the country, under the name Saif Saaeed Shaheen. Then three Brazilian footballers were registered as Qatari citizens to join a “national” team whose French trainer, Philippe Troussier, cheerfully said that “80% of my squad were not born in Qatar”. Perhaps we can look forward to a World Cup final one day in which both teams consist entirely of imported mercenaries. — The Guardian