Editorial: Sport - can we believe what we see?

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Even NZers only have to look at the sad downfall of cricketer Lou Vincent to have their eyes opened. Photo / Chris Gorman
Even NZers only have to look at the sad downfall of cricketer Lou Vincent to have their eyes opened. Photo / Chris Gorman

One of the joys of sport is the unpredictable nature of competition - the underdog beating the odds to record a famous win, or the favourite inexplicably falling short with victory in sight. The result should be uncertain, and the vagaries of professional sport mean upset results can happen genuinely, of course. But sports fans can be forgiven for wondering if seeing is truly believing.

Yesterday's revelations that some of the world's best tennis players are suspected of match-fixing is just the latest scandal to pry open the lid on corruption in sport. The leaked documents, nicknamed the "Fixing Files", include analysis of betting records on 26,000 tennis matches. Among the suspected fixers are reportedly a US Open champion and doubles winners at Wimbledon who were repeatedly reported for losing games when suspicious bets were placed against them. No action was taken by tennis authorities and the reports were swept under the carpet, until a cache of documents was leaked by whistleblowers. Eight of the suspect players are listed to appear in the Australian Open, which started this week.

The scandal comes soon after South African cricket found itself embroiled in another match-fixing investigation involving players who represented their country. There is an ongoing FBI probe into Fifa under suspended president Sepp Blatter and the athletics world is dealing with the fallout of a damning report which catalogued an entrenched culture of doping and bribery in Russia and beyond. Many of those suspected of cheating were allowed to compete - and win - at the London Olympics before later receiving life bans. Who could be blamed for being suspicious of world records which will tumble in Rio this August and wonder whether the gold medals are tainted? Even New Zealanders, who like to think of themselves as honest in sport, business and politics, only have to look at the sad downfall of cricketer Lou Vincent to have their eyes opened.

Cheating in sport is nothing new. But one senses the scandals embroiling tennis, cricket and athletics in recent months are only the tip of the iceberg. How many others in different sports are still hidden from view, unable to be aired publicly unless a frustrated whistleblower decides to take action? Billions of dollars are gambled on sport each year with the insidious influence of organised criminal groups at times seemingly pulling the strings.

Match-fixing, which includes deliberate under-performance or attempts to influence an official, became a criminal offence in New Zealand shortly before the Cricket World Cup last year. This gave the police greater powers to investigate. A policy paper noted "the emergence of match-fixing would present a significant threat to the integrity, value and growth of New Zealand sport and our international reputation. Match-fixing cuts at the heart of sport, which is based on mutually agreed rules and fair play".

The New Zealand Policy on Sports Match-Fixing and Related Corruption report noted that "without these attributes, sporting competition would lose its meaning, purpose and appeal". And, of course, the joy of celebrating a surprise result - without suspicions being aroused.

- NZ Herald

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