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.