It has been called the blackest day in Australian sport. You have to admit it is a bit of a shocker.
Revelations that the Australian Crime Commission has found evidence of widespread match fixing and use of illegally obtained and used performance enhancing substances has left the wider Australian sport-watching community flummoxed to say the least.
Whatever the truth is, and plenty are mainly concerned with just the names and the dates, the lesson to be learned here is that it has been coming for some time. Whatever the details of the revelation, at some stage, we were going to get a scandal related to professional sporting people crossing the line and breaking the rules in order to either gain an on-field advantage, or maximise their income.
I can remember a time where Australian elite sport still had a recreational feel to it. League footballers, on top of being our heroes on the park every Saturday, would have a beer or three after the match, hold down full time (or near full time) jobs, and probably be able to go grocery shopping or to the movies without being hassled.
But the innate human need for competition, and subsequently, improvement and innovation, coupled with the growing amount of money flowing into the game, meant that eventually footballers would become full time professionals, and physically would need to back it up. This is also true of those two other great Australian team sports: Rugby League and Cricket.
Once financial security is on the line, then the environment is created where pushing and passing the boundaries becomes a viable option for some. Whether through the taking of banned performance enhancing substances or fixing the results of matches for financial gain, the result of a sporting event is manipulated in a prohibited way, and we, the fan, are left cheated and with a growing sense of cynicism about what to believe.
Teams make decisions about the long term and rebuff success in the short term and it becomes a “tanking” scandal. Why? Because, apart from humans being pretty fond of supporting a winner, it cheapens the experience we have when we attend sport. An experience which continues to become more expensive.
I know some people who’ve thought twice about throwing their memberships into the bin when they arrived. I’m nowhere near that stage, but it is disappointing all the same. However, it does reveal that there is growing need for the honestly held concerns of “fankind” to be taken into account when major sporting organisations, managing leagues and competitions worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually, make decisions about the future of their respective sports.
It is too easy to call today the death of Australian sporting innocence, because a day like this has been coming for some time. Surely it can be a turning point, and hopefully the common Australian sporting fan is front and centre of considerations from now on. We deserve better than what happened today.