Kerre McIvor: 'Say it ain't so, Joe'

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Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, below, want those players involved in match fixing to be named and shamed. Photo / AP
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, below, want those players involved in match fixing to be named and shamed. Photo / AP

I love sport. Just about all sport. As a child, it was a way of spending time with my parents that was fun and exciting.

Sitting together as a family watching Chatfield bowling at the death against the Aussies in a one-dayer. Heading to Eden Park to cheer on Waikato in their Shield challenge against Auckland - and heading home again, victorious.

Picking favourites and watching Wimbledon into the wee small hours. Even heading to Lancaster Park to watch Otago play Canterbury in the Shell Trophy domestic cricket tournament - these memories and many more are happy ones.

My parents were good all-round sportspeople, but sadly, their talent wasn't passed down to me. So I became a passionate spectator, revelling in the extraordinary talents of so many, many men and women.

I appreciated the passion and dedication it took athletes to be able to compete with the best in the world. In New Zealand, there are very few sports where athletes can earn a living so there is very little financial reward for most of those incredible people who spend their lives honing their bodies and their minds.

Over the years, my love of sport has been tested. The doping scandals in the athletics world mean that I'm sceptical of the validity of any new world record set at the Olympics.

And although I wanted desperately to just sit back and enjoy Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson's superb opening partnership against Pakistan in Hamilton, a tiny voice kept asking me how hard the Pakistanis were really trying.

I suppose that's to be expected when there have been so many stories about match fixing within cricket but it's horrible to lose your innocence.

You want to believe in the beauty of pure sport - where the only people that matter are the competitors and the only way one person or team will win is if their bodies and minds are stronger than those of the opposition.

It's ghastly to think that a nasty little man with a suitcase full of cash could have any influence on the competition.

I didn't think I had any more innocence to lose but a little part of my heart withered and died this week when I heard accusations that tennis is dirty.

According to media reports, 50 players, many of them appearing on court in the Aussie Open, have been involved in match fixing. And among the dirty players, according to secret files that had been shared with news media, were those who'd won Grand Slam singles and doubles titles within the past decade.

As a young fan is supposed to have said to his baseball hero who'd been accused of throwing a match, "Say it ain't so, Joe!"

Oh, I was aware of the Davydenko brouhaha back in 2007. Davydenko, then ranked fourth in the world, withdrew from a match against an Argentine player ranked 87 in the world. It looked so dodgy that a British bookmaker refused to pay out on bets and the controversy made headlines around the world.

Novak Djokovic. Photo / AP
Novak Djokovic. Photo / AP

And tennis would be one of the easiest sports to throw, given that being in or out is a matter of millimetres. But I find it hard to believe top-tier players are dirty.

The journeymen players - sure. It's a tough and thankless life, going from tournament to tournament, getting wiped off the court in the first round, sharing a soulless hotel room with another cellar-dwelling player, eking out an existence on the very minimum a professional player can be paid.

They would be ripe for the picking should a fixer come knocking, especially if they were drawn against a top player in the opening rounds of a tournament.

But the best in the world have too much to lose. Their endorsements, those contracts that are even more valuable than the extraordinary prize money they earn, would dry up as soon as word got out that a player was a greedy, grasping cheat.

Roger Federer, along with many stars of tennis past and present, has called for the players involved to be named and shamed. And they should be. While it's all accusation, innuendo and speculation, all the top players are suspects.

(Just for the record, I refuse to believe Federer has ever so much as jaywalked, far less taken part in match fixing. You have to believe in something and I believe that Federer is as close to being perfect as is humanly possible.

Should I be forced to confront the fact he has frailties, I think I would give up on the human race altogether.)

Andy Roddick says in this age of social media and leaks, it's impossible to keep anything a secret. I hope he's right.

But the rot's set in. I'm still loving the Aussie Open but now, when I'm watching enthralling matches that see the underdog topple a much more fancied player, that cynical voice is back, saying, "Really?"

I'll never forgive the cheats, the gamblers and the match fixers for destroying the beauty of pure competition.

Kerre McIvor is on NewstalkZB, weekdays, noon-4pm

- Herald on Sunday

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