Substances and Sport

I am no authority on sport. In fact the last time I played in any formal way was probably about the same time as I last had an alcoholic drink, about 30 years ago. And no, I was not in any way recovering from having partaken in the ingestion of a banned substance, just making a coincidental self-imposed denial!

My sorties into elderly aqua aerobics and exercise classes in more recent years probably do not count towards any improved expertise in modern sport, although we often go for a caffeine hit afterwards – the sport/drugs link is still there I’m afraid!

I am posting on this topic, however, from the standpoint of someone who remembers when sport became widely professionalised. Although, as I have mentioned, I have never myself been a great player (I got into a couple of school teams merely because I tried hard and the teachers liked me), I have always been a very interested spectator. My families have been keen. My parents were keen sports people, my late husband, my children have been and are enthusiasts as are some of their children. So, like most Australian families, sport has been an important focus.

Twice in recent days there has been a sporting “shock”. The first was the report by the ACC. The second was the announcement that wrestling would no longer be one of the 25 basic sports included in the Olympic Games. We were more shocked by the second announcement than by the first.

I may be old and crotchety and I AM going to talk about how much better sport was years ago. But I am not generally against modernity. I would be a match for Hulk Hogan, at least in aggression, if he or anyone tried to take away my computer, mobile phone or iPad. I love my grandson’s radar equipment which measures the speed of balls as one bowls them at cricket (even though I only got my fastest ball up to 40 ks). I like the third umpire and the snick-o-meter at cricket and like decisions going “upstairs” at football.

When sport became professional most people I knew said that this would be the end of sport as we knew it. In particular it was alleged it would cause betting on matches and match fixing. It seemed obvious that this was very likely to be an unwanted result. So why is everyone surprised when this now appears to be the case? When the betting companies and bookmakers began to advertise as widely as they do that was further confirmation of the nexus. It is patently obvious that this has become a very lucrative part of their business.

But then something else, looking very superficially above board, arose. The young sports people stopped having to support themselves by being paid to do (often menial physical) work during time between matches. Some became “elite” which essentially meant they became sought after as the possessions of someone else. Institutes of sport (to which no HECS attatched), sports high schools, individual coaches and trainers arose and blossomed. Teams paid highly for each individual’s indentured, and very fettered, servitude.

Most invidious of all the “Sports Scientists” morphed. Unlike other scientists who traditionally want to find out information and share this throughout the world, such as those traditionally involved with sports medicine (who for example treated seriously amateur netball players with Osgood Schlatters disease), these are scientists employed by teams and thus are in a COMPETITIVE rather than a CO-OPERATIVE relationship with one another! When in competition, everything they do must be secret, and as a consequence how easily can they convince themselves that what they are doing is acting for the good of their team and so their sport? The use of substances to improve performance would seem a logical extension (as it appears to have also become in other areas such as with the use of Ritalin for concentration performance enhancement in children).

For scientific experimentation on people to be secret resonates with the days of Mengele and his experiments. I do not care whether Sports Scientists are “registered” or not when the very ethos of the profession appears to support secrecy and competition.

What else could we expect but exactly what has happened?

We are now at the crossroads and, I fear, can do little else other than go back to the clear division between amateur and professional sport and acknowledge that in professional sport we must accept that “anything goes”.

However, we do have the opportunity to put our spectating and our support behind clean amateurs in an amateurs/professional division . And this could include an addition to the Olympic games similar to the Paralympics – perhaps it could be called the Amalympics.


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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