The sporting scandals are coming fast and furious. No game is immune. And the whitewash is flowing. At 10.30am on Sky News this Saturday, the list of shame below will be my major point of discussion.
Three-time world snooker champion John Higgins was caught by the News of the World admitting he paid off his mortgage by fixing matches. The video of Higgins and his agent in Kiev is damning and conclusive. On Wednesday, he was banned for six months and fined £75,000. He’ll be back on November 2 and ready to add to the £5m the 35-year-old Scotsman has earned so far in his career.
Another former World Champion, Formula One’s Fernando Alonso, won the German Grand Prix in July after his team-mate Felipe Massa received clear team orders from Ferrari to let him pass. The FIA World Motor Sport Council saw fit to fine him £65,000 with no points deduction.
Dr Wendy Chapman, who cut the cheek of Harlequins winker Tom Williams during rugby’s Bloodgate scandal last year, was let off with a “formal warning” by the British Medical Council a fortnight ago. She will be allowed to practice again.
Since the World Cup, two England football stars, Peter Crouch and Wayne Rooney, have been exposed – despite a plethora of super-injunctions – as having paid prostitutes for sex. Both are in long term relationships and earn over £100,000 a week. Neither received any punishment, playing on with no sanction from club or FA.
And the current Pakistan touring cricket stand accused of “spot fixing” by the News of the World 10 days ago. They bowled no-balls at prescribed times and, according to one player, have been fixing matches “for years”. Three players have been dropped, a fourth is being questioned, but the rest are continuing their half-hearted tour of shame.
Tiger Woods, golf’s greatest star, stands accused of a dozen affairs and though his wife has left him, US Ryder Cup captain saw fit to call him up for the Ryder Cup as a more-than-wild card.
No sport is safe, it appears. And none of the governing bodies appear brave enough to eradicate the cancer eating away at our superstars.
Time and again, the over-paid sporting heroes are laid low by scandal. Each time, they are either hit by a minor fine, a meaningless suspension – or nothing at all.
Match-fixing has afflicted cricket for a decade, there are question marks over the deaths of Hansie Cronje and Bob Woolmer. But nobody acts.
Team orders have spoiled Formula One for years, but Ferrari can blatantly tell a driver to let his team-mate pass, without fear of a points deduction.
Millionaire footballers are not censured for their off-field behaviour, Tiger has never been sanctioned by any golfing authority for his marriage-shattering behaviour.
And so it goes on. We can talk athletics or cycling, where the drug culture refuses to disappear. Rumours of “tanking” dominate the tennis locker rooms. And we won’t even begin to discuss the problems of horse racing.
The point is this: true sport is in danger.
At the grass roots level, game playing is a simple occupation. You play your heart out and hope to win. Nobody can predict the score, referees are honest if incompetent, it’s all above board.
But at the top level, where people are expected to pay huge sums to spectate, sponsor or broadcast, sport is shooting itself in the foot time and again.
You can’t watch cricket now without wondering if that catch was put down on purpose. You can’t watch football without wondering what they were all up to in the Rio Ferdinand’s restaurant last Friday night. You can’t bet on snooker, cricket, Formula One, horse racing or tennis without wondering if you’ve got the inside track. In short: You can’t be sure exactly what’s going on, on or off the field.
And if things go on this way, with the governing bodies handing out little more than the odd slap on the wrist in the face of indisputable evidence, surely the fans, sponsors and television companies will begin to lose interest, in that order?
And fans are the lifeblood of every sport. Without their passionate and lucrative following, no game can survive at the top level.
They see their heroes regularly breaking the rules (of both their sport and society) yet they are rarely prevented long-term from earning millions for kicking, hitting or catching a ball.
Like politicians and bankers, sportsmen are in danger of being seen as money makers rather than entertainers. They are beginning to look like immoral, greedy, seedy villains rather than the courageous, shining examples of yesteryear.
Money – particularly in the case of the Pakistan cricketers – appears to be all that matters to the modern sportsmen with their agents and advisors. The trappings of success appear to mean more than the honour of wearing the national shirt to footballers.
And if the whitewash-laden governing bodies won’t pull the super stars into line, the fans will have to do it for them. By voting with their feet. By realising this isn’t what they signed up for when they shelled out their hard-earned cash for a ticket, a replica shirt, a pair of Rooney-signed boots.
The last few weeks have thrown up too many examples of corrupt sportsmen going relatively unpunished. The fans aren’t stupid. They’ve seen what we’ve all seen.
Superstars can behave as they want, without fear of being thrown out. Higgins will be back in few weeks, bloodied Williams is already playing again, Rooney and Crouch never stopped, Alonso will be on the grid, Pakistan’s endless tour goes on.
And the fans, surely, must wonder what the hell is going on. Would you pay to watch any of the above? I know I wouldn’t.
Who the hell is Neal Collins: see www.nealcollins.co.uk and Sky News this Saturday at 10.30am.