Save sport, stamp out cheats
Drug cheat: Ben Johnson. Photo: Pat Scala
THE scale and widespread nature of the soccer betting scandal, revealed by the European policing agency Europol, might have come as a surprise. But the fact that it has happened is surely no shock, merely a confirmation of human nature and the depths that some individuals will stoop to corrupt others.
It is also another reminder of the weakness or susceptibility to temptation of those who think they can make an easy buck at everyone else's expense.
It's easy to think of result rigging almost as a victimless crime. But it is a crime, a crime against integrity, against honesty, against our faith in the credibility of the contest.
It is a body blow to the contract that exists between players and officials of a club or organisation and the fans who bankroll that team with their money, commitment and emotional backing.
Those millions of supporters are the real victims, as are the sports themselves whose very existence is undermined by the corruption of a few who put their personal gain ahead of the wellbeing and security of everyone else involved.
This scandal once again illustrates how the biggest issue facing sport is integrity.
Yes, drugs are a massive problem - as illustrated by the outcry over various chemical cheats, from Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics and to the cataclysm effected by Lance Armstrong's admission that his seven Tour de France ''victories'' were fraudulently gained through his use of performance-enhancing substances.
But while drugs are at the heart of the integrity debate, they are not the whole argument.
Integrity is about believability. Fans have to believe that games, matches, races or events are being contested on their merits - whether that's the Tour de France, a Test or a one-day cricket match, an AFL regular season fixture, a midweek race from Sandown or a World Cup qualifier.
If you can't believe people are trying, if you have no confidence that what you are seeing is people striving to get the best outcome, what possible value does the sport have?
You can't blame bookies for taking bets. It's a legal activity for which they pay a rights fee to practise.
Sports authorities might not yet have become as addicted to the revenue from wagering companies as governments have from poker machines, but they have a growing taste for the easy money.
But the bookies, as much as those running the sports, need the activities to be straight.
If no one trusts the product, no one is going to bet on it. The administrators lose their revenue stream and, if people no longer believe in the honesty of the entertainment on offer they won't turn up to watch it.
So stamping out the riggers, the match fixers, the corrupters and their accomplices is essential and, contrary to what some might believe, the wagering companies provide important assistance in following the money trail and alerting authorities to strange and unexpected betting patterns on certain games or events.
Does anyone think that TV companies will continue to pay massive rights fees for the Premier League, the Champions League and the World Cup (or in Australia, the AFL or the NRL) if they thought the outcome of games was being settled by gambling cartels and fixers adept at serving up their own version of a Singapore Sling?
Every bent game, every dodgy result, every piece of corruption - no matter how minor in the scheme of things it might seem - attacks the core of the sport in question.
It is essential that sporting authorities - in soccer and everywhere else - step up their security and integrity departments and work fearlessly to stamp out the corruption with stiff penalties.
Sport, at least at the top professional levels, can exist only if we believe in it. Letting the fixers get away with it will ultimately make it harder to maintain credibility.