Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Follow the Trace: Sports still alive and well

Published:Wednesday | December 30, 2015 | 12:00 AM
In this Sunday, August 23, 2015 file photo, Jamaica's Usain Bolt (right) wins the gold medal in the men's 100m ahead of United States' Justin Gatlin (left) at the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing.

The year 2015 will long be remembered as the year when international sports suffered significant damage to its reputation. The massive corruption scandal engulfing the world's most popular sport has seen several high-ranking officials of the governing body of football, including former president Joseph 'Sepp' Blatter and several of his former vice-presidents, already charged and tarnished.

A similar fate seems to have befallen the world governing body of track and field, the IAAF, with its immediate past president Lamine Diack and other functionaries currently under investigation after allegations of corruption. Add to that the not unrelated issue of the widespread doping facing the sport generally, and specifically the significant allegations that athletics powerhouse Russia has been practising widespread state-sponsored doping. On the face of it, at least two of the world's major sports are in critical but stable condition and fighting for dear life.

Despite the sensational appeal of these developments, I think the sports of football and athletics are as strong and as relevant as at anytime in their history. The fact of the matter is that these scandals, for what they are worth, are at the administrative level of the sports, and except for the doping component, these issues have had no real negative effects on the integrity and the specific functionality of the sports themselves.

 

Track and field alive

 

The case could even be made that despite the confirmation of prevalent drug use in the sport of athletics, track and field is still very alive and well. Certainly, at the level of the Olympic Games and the World Championships, these events are no lesser spectacles than they were before. Simply seeing the world's best competing against each other is still an attractive proposition for most sports fans.

When, for example, Justin Gatlin faced off with Usain Bolt for the 100-metre World title in Beijing, it still was one of the most, if not the most, anticipated and well-watched sprint races in the modern history of the sport, despite Gatlin's conspicuous history of drug use.

Similarly, the scandals at the boardroom level of world football have in no way affected the attractiveness of the game itself. The UEFA Champions League, the Barclays Premier League, the Spanish La Liga and all the other major leagues of Europe are still appealing to the thousands and thousands of people who fill the stadia in support of their favourite teams, and this is in addition to the millions who religiously tune in across the world to indulge in the passion of the world's simplest yet most popular sport.

When the Olympics come around in the summer of 2016, no one will even remember the name Lamine Diack and what he might or might not have done. When the World Cup Finals come around in 2018, very few people, if any, will remember or care to remember the name 'Sepp' Blatter; we will all be submerged in another monthlong orgy of football.

 

Not important to fans

 

While the allegations of corruption and doping scandals and all the intricate details are good for news, and make for great 'bar talk' and verandah discussions, I think their importance to the average sports fan is highly overrated. We are more interested in the fortunes of our favourite teams, whether it be Liverpool, or Manchester United or Chelsea or Arsenal, or Barcelona or Real Madrid, and what they do week in week out on the football pitch than if 'Sepp' Blatter did or did not make a nefarious payment to Michel Platini. At the end of the day, sports is alive and well. Despite the moral and ethical dilemma at the administrative level of sports, the sports themselves are still very much intact and genuinely mean a lot to millions of passionate fans all around the world.