Federal Politics

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What odds integrity in sport will survive?

The loss of innocence in 2012 threatens the core values of the sporting contest.

IT HAS become depressingly commonplace to speculate upon sport in terms of betting contingencies. And no longer is this expressed in figures for and against, implying an element of contest. It is stated as a sum of money, which would reduce all the nuance and charm and drama in one of mankind's most gloriously illogical pursuits to a commercial transaction. Damon Runyon's world-weary observation that ''all of life is six to five against'' would now be rendered as ''existence, $2.20.''

In that banal spirit, the year in sport could be summed up as a market. The chances of London staging a wildly successful Olympic Games, as it did, would have been put at, say, $10. Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt would have been at $1.20 to dominate, but Mo Farah would have been $15. Sally Pearson would have been $1.05 for a gold medal, Anna Meares only a little longer and the men's 4x100 swim relay team even shorter, and a costly bet at that.

You could have had long odds on Australia staying in the top five on the medals table, but barely $1 on demands for even more public funding henceforth. In the modern Olympics, money does buy happiness, but Australia must decide if it is prepared to take out a mortgage to keep what regards as a birthright.

Elsetimes in the UK, Black Caviar was the definitive racing certainty at Royal Ascot, before squeaking home. Concerning the football codes, there would have been an attractive price on the possibility of Sydney winning Melbourne's premiership and Melbourne winning Sydney's; it happened. You surely would have been quoted a triple-figure sum that Test captain Michael Clarke would outdo Bradman with four 200-plus scores in 2012.

You could have had $20 or more on the A-League recruiting big fish who performed like big fish, but Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey have. Yet if you had wagered your house on Adam Scott winning the British Open when he was four shots in front with four holes to play, you would now be homeless.

In oldspeak, London to a brick there would be shenanigans at the races, but write your own ticket that a jockey would be caught and sanctioned, as Damien Oliver was. There would have been a juicy price about any AFL club ignoring the examples made of Carlton and Essendon and trying to cheat the draft and salary cap; come on down, Addle-aide. And no bookmaker on earth would have quoted a price on Lance Armstrong yielding in his long and faux indignant fight against allegations of drug-taking. He finished the year without a Tour de France title to his name, indeed without a name at all. It was the biggest and saddest sports story of the year. But you could have been certain that sports authorities faced with egregious wrongdoings would react tardily (racing), apply featherlight sanctions (AFL), or resist taking their head out of dunes of sand (cycling).

These speculations might appear frivolous, but they drive a point. The biggest issue for the sports industry is integrity. Typically, this is differentiated as match-fixing (including tanking) and the use of performance-enhancing drugs. If you like, it is either cheating to win, or cheating to lose … to win. Sports bodies all over the world are alert to this, and so are governments, including Australia's, which is moving to criminalise all forms of corruption in sport.

Yet in Australia, a basic connection is wilfully overlooked. Bookmakers and betting agencies swamp the sporting landscape with one message: get on. This colonisation is conditioning the way fans think about sport, normalising an idea of sport as means to a moneymaking end, warping the understandings of the young, and creating fertile ground for corruption. The argument that re-regulation would drive the unscrupulous underground is old and discredited. The Trojans at least had to build their own horse; now, it comes supplied.

If this seems alarmist, remember that after a spate of wickets fell to no-balls in the first Australia-South Africa Test this summer, odds were offered on similar occurrences in the second Test. Yes, an Australian bookmaker offered to take bets about no-balls. Only at Cricket Australia's insistence was the market taken down. When it comes to safeguarding integrity, even some people allied with sports bodies don't get it.

And if you wanted to bet that at this highly scrutinised and audited time, a time of great sensitivity to the importance of integrity, no sportsperson or body would dare try to cheat, we would give you Armstrong, and Oliver, and Adelaide Football Club. But we wouldn't take your money.