Now that Lance Armstrong has been outed for outrageous cheating in cycling, other sports have come under scrutiny. Among them is the sport of football, known as soccer in the U.S.
Yesterday, an international sports columnist who writes for the Associated Press wrote an article entitled “Football must not make cycling’s mistakes.” In this article, he mentions Lance Armstrong’s affect on cycling and equates it with major scandalous problems that are going on in the world of football.
The European police agency Europol announced that organized crime gangs “have fixed or tried to fix hundreds of football matches around the world.” Before this announcement, German law enforcement authorities identified 340 games in Germany and elsewhere that they suspect may have been fixed in recent years.
These criminal gangs bet on the rigged games to the detriment of the sport. Most of the rigged matches do not occur in the major leagues and tournaments. Still, they have tarnished the image of the sport, and might cause fans to lose interest in it due to concerns about fixed outcomes. This is what has happened in cycling.
In a world of materialism, where people are judged by wealth and possessions, it’s no wonder that some people organize themselves to cheat their way to the top. Such behavior occurs in the business world, in academia and in sports.
Succeeding though hard work alone is difficult. Some people struggle for years, desperately trying to succeed, and never quite make it. Others decide to skip work altogether and take shortcuts to the top. The former are in it for the glory, while the latter are in it out of greed. Regardless of motivation or behavior this creates an uneven playing field.
Years ago, athletes competed for little more than a trophy or a medal and bragging rights. Athletic competition was just that — competition. Athletes faced each other one or one or team against team and battled it out for a title.
Even professional athletes didn’t get paid much money. They played for the joy of it, for the recognition of being a champion and for the satisfaction of winning.
At some point, sports became a business. That’s when it went downhill. Big money was available to the winners. And some people would stop at nothing to get their hands on the money.
Illegal doping, rigging games and other forms of cheating became the norm. Being the best at your sport was no longer the goal; it was all about winning at any cost.
From this mindset came the Lance Armstrongs of the world. What he and his kind did was an illusion. They went through the motions of competing when they were really just benefiting from an unfair advantage.
Who would win was predetermined. This is not much different from reality TV. Such shows are orchestrated and presented as reality. We are made to believe that things are unfolding at random. Yet they are not.
So too is it with cycling and football (soccer). Rigging competitions can result in lucrative sponsorships and other perks. And it can allow for illegal betting, which is a way for others outside of the competition to benefit from it monetarily.
It’s hard to say what effect this cycling competition cheating and greed has had on cycling in general. It certainly taints the sport. But what about the image of regular cyclists? Does this negativity and illegal behavior worsen their image as well?
Even though it’s discouraging to watch another sport decline into a cesspool of cheating, it may have a beneficial effect on cycling. Not the sport, but the activity of cycling.
Fixed football games show that other athletes, in other sports, are no better from an ethical standpoint than cyclists. So we could look at all of this cheating as endemic to modern sports competition, rather than as a reflection on cyclists.
It’s a shame that the world has come to this. Although there have probably been criminals and cheats since the beginning of time, the international celebrity status of athletes, who are often viewed under a microscope, has magnified the problem many fold.
Short of removing the big money from sports, there’s probably little we can do about this situation. The authorities can police it and the public can refuse to support sports where doping or fixing matches is the norm. But neither of these things will end it entirely.
Hopefully, sports teams owners will see the negative effects of cheating and will exert extra pressure on the athletes, coaches, referees and everyone else involved. Until then, cyclists should distance themselves from the sport side of cycling and establish a cleaner, more responsible image for themselves.
Who knows? Perhaps things will work in reverse. Maybe the nature of the sport can be changed by an image change emanating from the grassroots, from the everyday cyclists who are the real heroes of the cycling world.