• Wed
  • Sep 17, 2014
  • Updated: 2:34am
Column
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 June, 2013, 9:51am

Whistle-blowers on the back page, too

Edward Snowden's revelations on US spying are disturbing, but so too are the shenanigans in the world of sports

BIO

Tim Noonan has been crafting uniquely provocative columns for the SCMP and SMP for more than a decade. A native of Canada, he has over 20 years’ experience in Asia and has been a regular contributor to a number of prominent publications, including Time magazine, Forbes, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The Independent.
 

You don't have to look too far around this publication to know it has been a big week for whistle-blowers. Up front American Edward Snowden has blown the lid off the US National Security Agency's mass surveillance programme in an exclusive interview. Snowden emerged from hiding in Hong Kong long enough to start spilling the beans on some seriously disturbing and illegal snooping around here on folks like you and I.

Not surprisingly, he is underground somewhere in the city. Well Ed, you have picked a great time to lay low because back here in the sports section we have whistle-blowers as well; we call them referees, and right now they are front-row centre as the NBA and NHL finals are starting to sizzle. But maybe golf is your thing? Good news there, too, with the US Open in full swing.

While you are waiting for the US government to obtain your extradition for leaking state secrets, it might be a good time to know you are not alone. There are rallies and protests being held here and around the world in support of your actions. So never mind a hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, here is a whistle-blower's guide to the galaxy at least as it pertains to the world of sports.

There has to be some sort of sinister conspiracy for a whistle-blower to surface and no professional league has been accused of conspiratorial actions more than the NBA. There is so much whistle-blowing in basketball that two minutes in NBA time is actually 20 minutes in real time. Between the constant TV time-outs and the protecting of star players, the games are a shrieking cacophony of whistles, which is why many games have a difficult time sustaining any rhythm or flow.

Far more troubling is that the league has long been accused of using the referees to manipulate games in order to get favourable match-ups for its marquee events like the NBA finals. The NBA brass was hardly shy about lusting after a Miami Heat-Los Angeles Lakers final at the beginning of the season. This year they only got it half right as the Lakers imploded so severely that not even the referees could save them and the league was forced to promote LeBron James and his Heat against the boringly efficient and perennially successful San Antonio Spurs. And what happens when the man blowing the whistle becomes a whistle-blower? After being charged with betting on games he refereed, NBA official Tim Donaghy started to blow the whistle on the league about how referees were told to favour star players and star teams. Of course, Donaghy's credibility and motives are much more dubious than yours, Edward.

Back when the earth was flat, there were only six teams in the NHL and all of them in seasonal and cold-weather locales. Today there are 30 teams in places like Arizona, North Carolina and Tennessee where they know and care little about hockey. This year a league lockout of players took the NHL even further off the radar and after a truncated season it was felt the play-offs needed to be spectacular and in traditional, big markets.

This year's Stanley Cup final features two Original Six teams in the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins and after a scintillating triple overtime game one, hockey was back in the bright lights. But, not surprisingly, there are some embittered fans claiming the league, through its referees, manipulated this desired match-up.

In golf, the whistle-blowers are actually at home watching on TV waiting to rat out some heathen golfer. During the last Masters, world No 1 Tiger Woods admitted he moved his ball back from its original spot after it had gone in the water. An officious viewer called organisers and said this was a rules violation and after review they agreed. When Woods showed up the next day he was hit with a two-stroke penalty, basically negating any chance of victory. And in the first round of the US Open on Thursday, two armchair rules officials called, trying to drop Steve Stricker and Adam Scott in it as well.

So when it comes to protecting the world from small-market NBA finals and protecting the NHL from suicidal and self-inflected work stoppages, as well as protecting the uber-honest and pristine game of golf from the cheating ways of its most renowned meal ticket, you are not alone, Mr Snowden. The whistles of freedom are blowing throughout the sporting land.

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