The revelations about the role of organised crime in gambling on sports events (and in encouraging drug-taking sportspeople to take drugs) made national headlines this week. The problems with the involvement in criminals in gambling is claimed to be that they “match fix” and therefore deny other gamblers access to a fair bet. But the bets are not fair anyway because the firms offering such bets make huge profits. The dumb part of gambling is that it is always a loser’s game. the criminals only make it worse. I’d certainly cut out all the advertising that encourages gambling during sports events (and indeed, I am told, on “reality TV” show outcomes) and publicise the fact that whenever there is the opportunity to cheat on a bet people will. This increases the perceived and actual price of gambling and hopefully discourages this stupid waste of resources. We need a major campaign to increase community awareness of the simple stupidity of gambling.
The use of drugs by sportspeople is related to the material incentives provided to sportspeople who have an edge. These incentives encourage those at the margin to trade off their psychic and physical health for money. These huge incentives, in turn, reflect the brainless devotion of the Australian public to sports, sports people and Black Caviar. By in large this has nothing to do with playing sport – an activity that I think everyone who can should be involved in – but to watching the stuff as a couch potato and talking about it afterwards endlessly, endlessly. Partly this is just a way of socialising with new people – “which team do you barrack for” as an alternative to “hullo” or “nice day” but the obsession in the media with sports and the fact that many Australian males cannot talk about anything else suggests things have gone too far.
Of course try to eliminate drugs in sport where these drugs damage health but the key point is to point out to non-drug taking sports-people that drug-takers increase the costs of participating in elite sports. Coaches and sporting bureaucracies who recommend drugs to athletes need ethical guidance since they have lost the plot. So too do clubs who encourage winning at all costs.
Elite sports should not be a national obsession. I’d abolish the Australian Institute of Sport, get rid of the Grand Prix etc etc. as soon as we can escape the stupid contract that we have and, generally, try to decommercialise sport. I am not opposed in principle to professional athletes and to mass sporting events. But I’d prefer these to be occasional fun rather than an obsession that feeds big business. The resources devoted by the various levels of government in Australia would be better utilised encouraging local sporting events by constructing sports facilities and by providing propaganda that points out the value of sport in developing health, good character and good citizenship. they could also be spent on bike and bushwalking tracks. Things that involve doing not just watching.
We don’t need to be obsessed with sports superheroes although we can appreciate their talents. Playing and enjoying sport are more important than hero or team worship.