Nirmal Shekar

Sport needs an ethical revolution

Sports fans all over the world have never had it so good. If a person is willing to forego a bit of sleep and take a few days off from work, he or she can watch live sports round the clock, unless the person is too choosy about what to watch.

What is more, with the omnipresence of the new media — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — not only does the fan have the opportunity to follow sports minute after minute, but he also has the chance to participate in what is happening on the field through status updates and tweets.

On the face of it, things have never been so good for sports lovers, who can not only enjoy the action but also become commentators — and influential ones at that, if they are any good — themselves.

Then again, dig a bit deeper, go beyond the flashlights and ignore the banner headlines about some banal stuff, beyond all the unbearable noise on television, and look at sport as if you were a serious-minded critic rather than a lay fan, and what you see is an activity that cannot even be held to the same ethical standards of life in general sometimes.

“It is commonly accepted that through sport one learns to persevere, to sacrifice and to be self-disciplined, work hard and to follow others,” writes Doris Corbett, an Associate Professor of sports sociology in the Howard University, in her essay ‘Ethics and Moral behaviour in sport’.

From what we see, hear and experience day after day, this seems a tall order, and Corbett herself seems far too idealistic.

But as a person who chooses to see the cup as half full, she goes on to say, “Sport and sporting events have been used by revolutionaries and reformers to fight against racism,” writes Corbett.

At once Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe spring to mind. Both of them, one the best known and greatest boxer of all time, the other a visionary tennis pro who lost his life before he could complete his mission, were heroic personalities.

Crooks as winners

But for every Ashe and Ali there are dozens of crooks who take advantage of every loophole there is in sport’s rules and regulations to bolster their status as winners and make sure their bank accounts might turn Hollywood megastars envious of them.

In the event, these are the best of times and the worst of times in modern professional sport. And to hide behind the cliché that cheating and corruption have always been a part of sport is to miss the wood for the trees.

There are dozens of reasons that sport is more corrupt and sleazy than ever before. Corruption may be the very antithesis of sport among the idealists but big money has blackened sport as never before with any number of parties — including fly-by-night operators throwing their hats into the ring — to try and make a quick buck or two.

Who would have thought that two of the best known and hugely wealthy individuals — FIFA boss Sepp Blatter and that artist among midfielders, Michel Platini of France — would be exposed as two of the most corrupt administrators in the most popular sport on earth!

If the football administration is under a dark cloud, then a few major sports have been spared the embarrassment of their bosses indulging in shady deals to stay on in power (think cricket).

Even Sebastian Coe, the boss of the world athletics federation and a man whose integrity can hardly be questioned, has had a rough time dealing with the tough issue of drug use among Russian athletes.

And the less said about cricket — particularly Indian cricket — the better. Wherever India is ranked among the world’s most corrupt nations, you can be sure that Indian cricket, by itself, will be lower still.

From the time Greek athletes consumed sheep testicles for the testosterone it contained and enhanced performance, sportsmen have gone the distance to make sure they win at any cost.

From minor offences such as sledging, faking injuries, diving, ball tampering and using offensive language on the field, we have come all the way to match-fixing, money laundering, blood doping and (in the near future) gene doping.

The Who’s Who of crooks in sport in the last five decades alone will fill an entire page in this newspaper. And each of them has found his/her own novel ways to cheat.

Ben Johnson’s bulging eyes betrayed him even before he was tested in the 1988 Olympics; the darling of the media, Marion Jones, tearfully told jurists “I lied to you,” after returning the medals she won in Sydney in 2000.

The first person to get caught cheating in the modern Olympics was Fred Lord. In the St. Louis games in 1904, he covered 11 of the 26.2 miles in the marathon in a car and hit the tape first. Of course he was exposed quickly enough.

But some of the worst offenders, apart from Johnson and Jones, were Mike Tyson — who bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear — Lance Armstrong (who disgracefully let down tens of thousands of cancer survivors who looked up to him as god), Diego Maradona and Hansie Cronje, to name only a few.

To conclude, fittingly, it is Doris Corbett again. “My premise is that in sports, there is not a commitment to fair play. And without a commitment to fair play, human rights problems will continue to abound in sports.”

Yet, the point is: why do we demand far higher standards of ethical behaviour from sportsmen and teams when other areas of human activity in most societies are riven by corruption? This is a question that can be meaningfully addressed only in another full column...coming soon your way.


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Printable version | Jun 29, 2022 10:21:05 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/nirmal_shekar/Sport-needs-an-ethical-revolution/article14475939.ece