As the accusations are working their way through the legal channels, people are asking: Who is to blame? The finger has been pointed at many groups, but there is one that has not been examined. Let's take a look:
The Sporting Organisations
Professional sporting clubs are about winning matches. Winning teams gain more sponsors and members. Clubs have marketing and membership departments to help drive the "business." And it is big business. Sport, it could be argued, is part of the entertainment industry. And within this industry each sport competes for brand awareness. The result is that sports organisations are striving for our dollar, like every other product or service. And this pressure for results and money, as in any industry, can be associated with corruption.
Sports betting has exploded in recent years. And growing revenues means growing influence on sport. The IPL Cricket is an example of the huge power of sports gambling to change the face of sport. And along with this, some sports allegedly gain a proportion of the bets made. More bets means more money for the sport. These betting agencies have changed the face of sport and their influence is part of the hard questions to be answered.
The media helps drive sport and the huge revenues they earn. A network deal with a sporting organization can make or break a sport. Each network's sport is then marketed like any other product. The media also takes the sports around the globe and places Australian sports in reach of big punting agencies overseas. Each of these various stakeholders has a part to play in this complex problem.
Only the best of the best athletes make it to the sports we watch on TV. Their careers are often short (less than four years average for an AFL player) and their wage is large (average AFL wage is $280 000). The pressures to perform are huge: Pressure to perform at training, during the game, in media interviews, to recover faster from injury. Athlete's live life in a fishbowl and as a result often search for every advantage to meet those pressures.
Many sports have salary caps restricting the amount spent on players. Every club is looking for an advantage so once the team is bought, another key area to gain advantage and spend their money is in training and development. Enter the world of the sport scientist. From exercise physiologists to strength and conditioning experts to nutritionists to sport psychologists to biomechanists to motor control experts; there is a long list of experts to consult for that extra advantage.
And just as athletes in elite sport are the best of the best and strive each week to keep their competitive advantage, so too the sports scientists, at this level, are the best and brightest. For example, the Australian Institute of Sport's sport science facilities only employ people with a Ph.D and extensive experience. The result is that they also feel the pressure to perform and achieve results.
The fans (YOU)
We are the ones who that put pressure on our favourite players/teams to perform. We are the ones who criticize when their performance is not up to scratch. Our watercooler conversations are quick to criticize the Australian swim team's Olympic performance or debate the moral dilemma of Lance Armstrong's charity work verse drugged cycling performances. We follow sport vicariously, owning the victories, struggling with the defeats and dissociating from the cheating.
So which one is to blame for the state of elite sport in Australia? Maybe it is all of them: a multidimensional issue with a complex interwoven matrix of factors. That means to "fix" the problem requires a multidimensional approach: Better administrative guidelines, anti-gambling legislation, media regulation, athlete's and sport scientist's Code of Conducts.
The missing factor?
But there is another more fundamental issue that underlies the whole issue: the state if the human heart. It is human nature to fall, to be corrupted, to be tempted. The Bible describes a fallen world without a human solution. The Bible explains many human-made attempts such as new laws, new governments & rulers, enforcing a theocracy, making sacrifices, and many others. But the human condition remained the same. Even a flood did not wipe clean the internal troubles of the human heart. The Bible explains that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and is exceedingly corrupt" (Jeremiah 17 verse 9). We should not be surprised, therefore, by alleged corruption in sport.
What is the answer then? The fundamental answer is found not in changing external laws but an internal change of the human heart. Jesus' substitutionary death takes away all of these past (and future sins). Jesus' resurrection provides the Holy Spirit that changes the human heart.
This process of sanctification changes the Christian from the inside. From an eternal perspective, the answer to all these problems is Jesus. The players, administrators, scientists, and fans need a personal relationship with Jesus to change the human heart from stone into flesh. But until Jesus returns we live in a corrupted world.
Why not include prayer for the people of sport in your personal or church prayer chain this week? Why not support a local sports chaplain who takes Jesus' grace and mercy into the world of sport? God knows our sports mad nation needs the Spirit's power.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html