Now cheats prosper in the world of sport
The ball-tampering affair in Australian cricket should prompt broader reflection on the pressures and temptations that young people face when talent puts them within reach of riches
Sport lost its innocence long ago to big-money professionalism and a win-at-all-costs mentality fuelled by revenue from television rights and sponsorship. To many purists money must indeed seem to be the root of all evil. Amid performance-enhancing doping, match-fixing, gambling, cheating and rule bending that makes a mockery of fair competition, it did not seem possible to any longer shock scandal-weary fans.
Cricket, the English game that once prided itself on fair play, has confounded that notion. A member of Australia’s national side has been caught red-handed by the cameras using sandpaper to tamper with the ball in a test match against South Africa in Cape Town. The tampering was intended to help a bowler make the ball swerve unexpectedly in high-speed flight towards the batsmen, making it harder for them to play. So what, some followers would say, many sides do it and the difference is getting caught. But it is still cheating.
What sets this case apart is that the Australian captain Steve Smith publicly shouldered responsibility for plotting and approving the illegality. The reaction was unprecedented public outrage at behaviour that not only disgraced the team but was seen to reflect poorly on a sports-mad nation. Cricket is Australia’s national game. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose party trails in the polls, quickly tapped into public sentiment and led the condemnation. His instincts were right. The word “shame” dominated media coverage.
Smith and his deputy are now serving the unusually severe punishment of a one-year suspension. Their actions amounted to fraud on the paying public. Hong Kong is no stranger to it, with a number of soccer players having been charged for match-fixing.
The ball-tampering incident beggars belief. It does nothing to promote the healthy values sport is supposed to nurture. The affair should prompt broader reflection on the pressures and temptations that young people face when talent puts them within reach of riches, especially if invited to play in the lucrative Indian Premier League. It sets a shocking example to emerging young players, the more so because they know that any players who are sanctioned can console themselves with healthy bank balances.