When Did Sport Lose Its Innocence?

James BroomheadAnalyst ISeptember 13, 2008

I'm fed up with sport. I'm fed with having to take everything with a pinch of salt, I'm fed up with overpaid prima donas whining to cameras, I'm fed up with officials and their decisions.

This summer has not been a great advertisement for sport. The Olympics, the greatest possible advert for sport on the planet, was mired, and still is, in questions about drugs and cheating. How many times were you watching the gymnastics, diving, boxing (or anything else with judges) and found yourself slack jawed as the decision went the way of the Chinese competitors despite overwhelming evidence that it should have gone another way. 

We had a number of drugs cheats being found out, the most high profile being the heptathlete Lyudmila Blonska, who "won" the silver medal. Perhaps the darkest hour came with the Chinese women's gymnastics, who had several accusations of being too young to compete levelled at their athletes. What is the world coming to when even 14-year-old girls are part of the dark side of sport?

What tipped me over the balance, as far as the Olympics go, was Carl Lewis' comments about Usain Bolt. Bolt, along with Michael Phelps, was one international good news stories to come out the games. His three performances were phenomenal, breaking three world records along the way. In a sport that has several of the big names of the previous decade have to hand back various medals, this was exactly what was needed.

Now Lewis, hopefully speaking out of more than a little bitterness, has claimed that Bolt's (and presumably those of the whole Jamaican track and field squad) performances cannot be trusted as the Jamacian athletics association does not have random drugs testing.

What does it matter? He didn't win Olympic medals and break world records at Jamaican events, he won them at the Olympics, where they drug test athletes, especially the winners with a battery of tests that CERN can only dream of. Can't Lewis just appreciate a great athlete when he sees it?

Football (soccer version) has lost its innocence more than many sports. We find high powered big wigs sticking their noses in where they really don't belong. Sepp Blatter is well known for his daft comments, my favourite being that female footballers should wear shorter shorts and roll in mud at half-time. 

Over the summer we found people claiming that Christiano Ronaldo not being allowed to move away from Manchester United was the modern equivalent of slavery. This was one of the most offensive comments I've heard in a while. The man is paid stupid amounts of money to do what he loves. I'm sure if you offered that situation to most people in the best of times, let alone the current economic climate, they'd jump at the chance, even if they were stopped from moving.

Not a week goes past without teams hounding the referee about a decision. We see players throwing themselves theatrically to the ground in search of the merest advantage. What happened to playing the game (yes, football is still a game...) in good spirits? Perhaps it went away when the piles of cash came in.

Modern sport, with it’s appeals and challenges, has lost some of its spirit. NFL challenges, or those in tennis are one thing, but occasions where there is external influence are another.

In last week’s F1 Grand Prix in Belgium fans saw one of the most exciting finishes in recent years. This is exactly what sport is about. However, after the race a conference room full of faceless suits decided the outcome. This is not what sport is about.

Further to that I don’t even think the raft of complaints from fans about the verdict was what sport was about. There are always going to be decisions which go against you, it’s all part of sport, if you enjoy sport you might as well enjoy the times which don’t go your way.

It's now getting to the point where anything even related to drugs, or cheating, is a bigger story than the actual sport. This week saw reports than NASCAR driver Ron Hornaday had been taking testosterone and Human Growth Hormone. It was reported that he'd used them before they were added to NASCAR's list of banned substances, and even then he claimed to be using them due to a medical condition.

Then it was reported that NASCAR would not be punishing him. This is not news! We don’t watch sport to hear about those less fortunate than ourselves, we watch sport to escape.

Where did it all go wrong? Of course cheating is nothing new. In the Olympics it goes back nearly as far as the modern games themselves. The early years of the Olympics are littered with stories of runners taking shortcuts in the marathon, or even hitching lifts in cars. There was even one coach who sought an advantage for his athlete in a mixture of whisky and strychnine.

But they were small and were pretty obviously found out. Only now there seem to be vast internal workings to help athletes cheat and get away with it, helped by coaches, teams and even nations. 

It’s getting to the point when even the places where sport should be at its most innocent are being infected. In junior football leagues we hear of kids as young as 11 employing the same tactics as the players they watch on the TV—the swearing, the diving, the chasing the officials.

Kids should learn to enjoy sport for what it is, and sport is not that. You here of parents of these kids running onto the pitch to complain to the referee about a decision in their kid’s match. I’m all for competitive spirit in children, but there is such a thing as going too far.

Where has real sport gone?

So this weekend, when you watch your favourite sport or team, by all means cheer when your guys win, or boo when the others do. But just watch it as sport, and hope everyone else does.