Failing The Fans
Tossing the ball up and down, Mark Agnew reminisces about some of his favourite moments in sport. He smiles as he remembers Ireland beating England in the 2011 Cricket World Cup, and scowls at the memory of Australia beating Scotland in a rugby thriller in 2015. But his face turns to melancholy. He looks back to when Lance Armstrong admitted to doping after years of denying accusations. He thinks of FIFA and the allegations of corruption that plague football.
Agnew is a semi-professional rugby player in Hong Kong and a keen follower of a number of sports. Although he has never come across dishonesty in his team or in Hong Kong rugby, he worries that high level corruption may affect the sports he loves.
“The whole point in sport is literally the competition and that is the exciting part. What everybody wants to see is an underdog victory, but as soon as the idea of corruption is introduced even if there is no evidence, that is undermined.”
Sport can bring out the best in people. After winning the Rugby World Cup 2015 final against Australia, New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams gave his gold medal to a fan. Mesut Özil, the Germany and Arsenal football player, is said to have donated $600,000 to support the operations of 23 children in Brazil after helping his country to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Unfortunately, such acts of goodwill are not the norm. As various sports have grown in popularity, the amount of money involved has risen. Prize money, ticket prices, and advertising revenues have increased, while construction contracts for sporting tournaments around the world have fostered profitable business opportunities. It is unsurprising that corrupt players, officials, and administrators have tried to take advantage.
They may see their actions as harmless, but convicted athletes such as cyclist Lance Armstrong or accused administrators such as former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, not only bring their individual sports into disrepute, but also raise doubts over the fairness of sport at all levels.
High level corruption is more of an abstract concept for fans according to Agnew, but it doesn’t make him any less angry to hear about it and its wider implications on the game.
Agnew is a genuine lover of sport. Aside from playing semi professional rugby, he coaches the youth teams at his club in Hong Kong, and enjoys hockey, cricket, and rowing when he has the opportunity. But corruption is a genuine worry for him and he questions its impact on himself.
“If I was involved in a sport where corruption at player or organisational level was endemic, it would make me question why I was involved and why I wanted to continue to be involved.”
Sport does not want to lose fans and players like Agnew.