Apr 23, 2010

The spirit of sport is money … and the scandal is inevitable

The salary cap scandal was inevitable, writes Dr James Connor: the desire to win overrides any ideas of personal or corporate ethics.

Scandal in sport is inevitable. What is the term beyond scandal? What can you add to the debate on ethics, corporate honesty and greed when the most scandal-ridden sporting code manages to plunge to the depths (heights?) of utter irredeemable corruption? This is what you can add -- this scandal was inevitable. Not inevitable that it would be the Melbourne Storm, with a dual contract system operating for years to avoid the salary cap. Not inevitable that it would be the NRL; it could have just as easily been the AFL. What was inevitable is that the desire to win overrides any ideas of personal or corporate ethics. This need, constantly pushed on players, coaches and administrators clouds judgement and justifies a bevvy of appalling behaviours. What was inevitable is that scandalous corruption was coming to sport -- because there is too much money. Commercialised sport, irrespective of the code, has become a sickly beast. Children (yes kids) are plucked from the masses and selected into pathway or talent programs. They end up being coached, trained and played till they either break (and the vast bulk do break, physically or mentally) or finally make it into an elite team. Then if they are lucky they get a few "good" years of playing before chronic (life-long) injury or inappropriate conduct pushes them out of sport. Some, the lucky few, fall back into sport as the next generation of coaches and administrators exploiting players. Most end up nowhere, bodies broken, promises snatched and a with little education or life experience out of the heady world of sport. All this to feed the beast that has become a massive marketing machine -- commercial sport. Winning a premiership guarantees further sponsorship for your team, the brand grows and more money is sucked into the system. Marketers and broadcasters dictate rules, times of play and how the game works -- and if fans resist they march right over them (remember the Rabbitohs?). We have new strips (home and away) every season to drive merchandise sales. The world cup of marketing is about to start in South Africa -- just wait for the deluge. The influence of corporate control and sponsorship, where making money and exploiting your players and fans is the only option, corrupts. Winning at all costs has become the sole motivator. This drive to win, be the best and beat the opposition inevitably leads to temptation. Losing is not an option. Combine that with the corporate imperative to make a profit then the pressure is immense. The spirit of sport is money -- gone are the ideals (indeed, if they ever existed) of fair play. As soon as money enters sport we see corruption, whether it is the IOC, rugby league or Twenty20. Add gambling to the mix of win at all costs and we have a perfect storm for corruption. Hence the inevitability of scandal in sport -- just wait for the next drugs, sexual assault, match-fixing or betting scandal -- I guarantee it is only time. Dr James Connor is a sports academic at [email protected] and (ironically) has just edited a special issue of the International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship on scandal.

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6 thoughts on “The spirit of sport is money … and the scandal is inevitable

  1. zut alors

    I couldn’t agree more. Who would’ve imagined that businessmen would fiddle the system to gain an unfair advantage – a new concept!

    The hand-wringing which is now taking place about the remainder of this year’s playing season for Melbourne Storm beggars belief. It’s a unique opportunity for an elite team of sportsmen to play to their optimum without incentives of cash bonuses, glorification, piss-up premiership parties and the usual celebratory end of season shenanigans and perks.

    For the remainder of 2010 Melbourne Storm can now indulge in the pure pleasure and satisfaction of playing sport for sport’s sake. They, along with most professional players, have probably forgotten how that feels.

  2. johana

    Good article.

    Out of interest why is the taxpayer funding Sports Academics at ADFA, a military academy?

  3. John Bennetts


    Why is the taxpayer funding sports academies anywhere at all? Why?

    Sports is close to The Yarts as an example of useless endeavour.

    Speaking of which, sports aren’t the only businesses which rely on public support, adulation and funding but also have cesspools. Name any of the Yarts and you will find examples of similarly ethics-free behaviour, including trapping thousands of youngsters into meaningless short term careers without future for any but the very tiny cadre of the elite.

  4. zut alors

    Can we please not use Americanisms…the word is sport not sports.

  5. John Bennetts

    Zut, Point taken, but where does that leave the other Americanism, “math”?

  6. zut alors

    @ John B

    It leaves math on the other side of the Pacific Ocean where it belongs. After all, we don’t engage in their football so why copy other skewed practices.

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