Who said sport was the pursuit of excellence in athletic performance? Nowadays, sport the world over has transformed into a very different contest: who is best at having their palm greased? For one, the whole Olympic movement is in turmoil over suggestions International Olympic Committee members offered votes for prospective host cities in exchange for money. Add to that the noble game of cricket, which is wringing its hands over suggestions that bribery of players could be widespread in the game. And Hong Kong is now in the thick of the palm-greasing action. There's renewed allegations of race-throwing on the local thoroughbred scene. And, of course, Hong Kong soccer has recently been through a match-fixing scandal. Yesterday, we had the latest amazing allegation: that a member of the Chinese ping-pong team had been offered money to throw a final at the Asian Games. Is no sport immune to the tentacles of the phantom briber? Stand by for the next big pay-off scandal. Illegal bookmakers rigging that last bastion of squeaky-clean sporting pursuits: the world marbles championships. There was a kerfuffle last month when Credit Suisse First Boston told staff that 'free' corporate Christmas cards for distribution to clients were no longer to be issued. Staff wanting to send cards with the company's logo to clients or contacts were told they would have to buy them. Well, this week, CS First Boston rang to protest it was not totally immune to Christmas spirit. A spokesman told us the investment bank had set up an Internet site - with a colourful Rugby Sevens festive season cartoon - for anyone wanting to be wished 'Merry Christmas' by the firm. Thanks guys. If by some odd chance we feel badly in need of some Christmas cheer from an investment bank, it'll be up on our screens in a jiffy. In this day and age of high technology, not even beggars are asking for cash in person. One letter being circulated in Hong Kong - sent in by reader Tony Arkey - simply asks for the generous to deposit money directly into a bank account. In a fax headed 'Prosperous Coming New Year For You. Good Day.', an unnamed person states that in five years in Hong Kong, he or she had been unable to 'save for my family future'. Not much more is said, except a simple request. 'If I found favor from you, please drop any amount you're willing to give into my account.' The spiel then proceeds to give the details of a Hongkong Bank account, before stating: 'Thank you very much in advance and may God of Prosperity will bless you in all your ways.' A Discovery Bay address is also given in the spiel, but no phone number. Moreover, some checking around Discovery Bay has revealed that the address given in the spiel is suspicious. Yes, it seems suspiciously like a scam to us. Still, if nothing else, you cannot help but admire the gall of someone who expects senior executives to drop money into his or her account: sight unseen, and no questions asked. Talk about one-track minds. Notice boards in the Transport Department's offices are advertising tomorrow's staff Christmas party venue as the Kowloon Bay Vehicle Examination Centre! We imagine the jolly TD staff will be eating their Christmas dinner off paper hubcaps and filling petrol tanks full of punch. But at least they will be able to make sure of the wheel alignment and check the ignition on their portable barbecues. We trust some bouncers will be on hand. After all, a few nuts are inevitable at a vehicle examination centre party! There's always one sure giveaway that the US is invading Iraq again. The term 'surgical strikes', used to describe the US bombing strategy, becomes an integral part of the war correspondent's language once more. In Hong Kong, surgical strikes are purely a medical phenomenon. Here, they take place when someone goes into hospital to have their tonsils out and, through some medical blunder, end up having a heart transplant instead. Gee, come to think of it, the Hong Kong version of the 'surgical strike' has more in common with its US counterpart than the Pentagon may care to admit.