Just What Is The Price Of Modern Sporting Success?

Do you have what it takes? How far are you prepared to go? Will you do whatever it take to reach your goals? These are all cliched question asked to modern athletes of whatever sport. See that’s exactly the issue. Increasingly sports has taken on a win at all costs mentality. 

This is commendable that athletes will increasingly do whatever it takes to win in sport, yet for some this leads them over the line of fair play and into the murky waters of cheating. But just why do these professionals sometimes break the rules to attain success. Quite simply, as a society we all demand it.

The world lauds the victor, etching their names into the history books to be remembered. Simultaneously, we typically discard the loser, vanquishing them to the abyss of obscurity. For the winner, there come the plaudits, fans, money, social prestige and glamour of been held up as a winner. This is exactly why some athletes break the rules to achieve this.

Don’t for a second think this is confined to a select few sports. Almost all major sports have had some sort of scandal or cheating bringing unwanted attention to the sport and it’s global image. Whereas in the past sport was a recreational activity of the wealthy, it has now been turned into a major worldwide business with billions of dollars at stake for those in charge.

This explains why sometimes it isn’t just the athletes who bend the rules for their own benefit, as Sepp Blatter and FIFA can attest, sometimes the governing bodies themselves are at it also.

FBL-FIFA-CORRUPTIONSepp Blatter looks bewildered in the aftermath of a recent stunt by a British comedian. He threw money at Blatter during a FIFA press conference, making fun of the current corruption scandal engulfing him and FIFA. Photo copyright Fabrice Coffrin/ AFP/Getty Images.

The Russian doping scandal has dominated the sports headlines this month, and whilst it is initially shocking over time it simply becomes another example of sport ethical code being brought into serious question.

So far it appears from the WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) report, Russia was involved in an institutional doping programme involving the government, athletes, coaches and even the former IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) president Limane Diack.

Allegations are made that the IAAF president from 1999 to August this year accepting bribes from Russia to cover up positive drug tests of it’s athletes. Whilst this is a terrible incident for the IAAF and athletics to be going through, it wouldn’t be the first time a governing body has been accused of bribery.

Even as I type the long running investigation into FIFA is going, with strong allegations that outgoing president Sepp Blatter accepted bribes from both Russia and Qatar to secure them the 2018 and 2022 World Cup’s respectively. There are even allegations now that previous World Cup’s were effectively bought by nations through bribery in the voting system.

Another sports governing body with a blemished name is the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), who face allegations their former president Hein Verbruggen covered up positive drug tests of former superstar rider and doper Lance Armstrong.

armstrongseven_get_2318739b  Lance Armstrong posing for the camera’s, celebrating his landmark seventh straight Tour de France title. Only in 2012 was it widely known that a major part of all his victories was systematic doping. Photo copyright Getty Images.

I would need to write a separate blog to fully explain in detail the whole story behind each of these allegations, however they all form a pattern, giving further evidence supporting the fact sport is now big business with all the positives and drawbacks associated with this.

Football is the most popular sport in the world, and this makes it the prime target for perceived cheating in the pursuit of success. It can range anywhere from something simple like diving to try and win a free kick or penalty, upwards to illegal transfers using third party ownership of players through to out and out match fixing.

This issue is most famous for the 2006 case in Italy where the then Serie A champions Juventus were found guilty and relegated to Serie B. This issue is still prevalent today, especially in Eastern Europe.

In rugby there was the “bloodgate” scandal of 2009, whereby in a Heineken Cup quarter final match, Harlequins player Tom Williams faked a blood injury so that the team could make a tactical substitution.

Once found guilty Williams was banned for four months, with director of rugby Dean Richard banned for three years. Diving is also becoming an increasing problem in rugby union. Aside from this rugby has a very honest public perception, but this shows there is room for cheating in even seemingly “honest” sports.

quins-getty_3129753bHarlequins Tom Williams leaves the field after the infamous “bloodgate” rugby scandal of 2009. Williams faked a blood injury and was banned for four months. Photo copyright Getty Images.

In F1 there have always been allegations of cheating amongst teams, although this was considered tame in comparison to the 2009 scandal surrounding the Renault team. It was unearthed that the team had gone ahead with a plan from their driver Nelson Piquet Jr to deliberately crash on lap 13 of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

This allowed the teams lead driver Fernando Alonso to claim the race lead thanks to a pit stop he made just before the accident. He went on to win the race, although the plot was only uncovered a year later. There was also the 2007 example where a few rouge Ferrari and McLaren team members were found to have passed over information on the current 2007 Ferrari F1 car.

F1 has also been rocked by allegations made against commercial rights holder and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who has been previously accused of bribery in both the awarding of TV rights, and with adding new races to the F1 calendar.

Nelson Piquet Junior, Brazilian racing car driver for Renault cr  Nelson Piquet Jr infamously deliberately crashing early on in the 2008 Singapore GP. The crash allowed team leader Fernando Alonso a clear victory after a poor qualifying. Photo copyright Getty Images/Daily Mail.

Cycling meanwhile has already been covered by three blogs I made last year chronicling it’s dark years between the early 1990’s into the late 2000’s. You can find them here , here and here .

It’s common knowledge that cycling has had doping issues throughout it’s history, although during the past few years it’s become apparent that doping was rife in the 90’s and 2000’s.

To win races or to even become a professional doping was widely accepted as necessary, with boatloads of drugs, slush funds to pay for it and highly qualified secret doctors all characterized this period. The 1998 Festina Affair is a perfect example of this.

American sports may have their own niche and primary audience in North America, but this hasn’t stopped it from being tainted by cheating. There is an ongoing problem of performance enhancing drug use within both baseball and the NFL.

In baseball especially there has been a recent history of a number of high profile players such as Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez being linked with steroid use in their careers.  Whilst it’s less of an issue in the NFL, this does not mean it is immune to cheating.

020413-bonds-barry-600    Baseball superstar hitter Barry Bonds during a game for the San Francisco Giants. Bonds legacy would be tainted with the news he used steroids during his career. Photo copyright Denis Poroy/AP.

Deflategate is a recent example, where the Superbowl champion New England Patriots were found guilty of under inflating their football’s before a key play-off game against the Indianapolis Colts. This advantage for the Patriots cost them a heavy fine and a loss of their first round draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

There are plenty more examples from sports I both did and didn’t mention in this article. (Ed. If you can think of any other cheating scandals I haven’t mentioned please comment below.) This article shows how cheating is now a necessary evil within sport, with a number of factors behind this.

A major reason is the vast amounts of money generated from sport in the 21st century, of which naturally trickles down to the players. Only the successful players however can earn the mega money all kids who love football dream of earning.

Another may be the people around them, such as coaches or parents who can convince an athlete to cheat if it’s for their own personal gain. Another may simply be for personal prestige, with the trappings of celebrity and worldwide super stardom and adulation from fans only afforded to the most successful athletes.

Whatever the reasoning behind it is, sports fans now have to accept that they simply cannot believe in sport to the same degree previous generations did, simply because there is too much of an incentive to be successful within modern sport. In pursuit of this, it can drive some over eager athletes to cross the line and cheat to attain success.

If anyone has any comments on this article, feel free to post it below I’d love to read them and thank you for reading.


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