Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Putting aside horse and dog racing, too often known for dodgy goings-on, when did sport cease to be sport and become both thoroughly crooked and virtually a war of attrition? I am thinking particularly of football but no sport seems to be free of it. Cricket recently had its scandal with Pakistanis cricketers being bribed to misbehave on the pitch and the Pakistanis no doubt aren’t the only ones. China’s once top referee has been sentenced to five and a half years for taking bribes to fix matches. He is one of nine accused. So money in the shape of big time gambling is a primary reason but secondary there is the question of fans, truly living up to their sobriquet of fanatics. If you go to enjoy a football match you don’t expect to be going to your death. True, accidents can happen, more than one grandstand has been known to collapse resulting in casualties and there have been instances of mob behaviour rushing gates but what I am referring to is this: recently there was a pitch invasion in Port Said, when Cairo's visiting al-Ahly side were attacked after losing to the local al-Masry side. Seventy-four people died and more than 1,000 were injured. Most of the dead were believed to be al-Ahly supporters. Hardcore fans - known as "ultras" - have accused the authorities of allowing the killings to happen.

Greek football, according to The Athens News, is at the moment in a state of utter disgrace – “Greece Top of shame league in new report.”

After a comprehensive survey of 3,200 players the results quite frankly are astonishing: match fixing, crowd violence and delayed payments to players are rife. As far as the delayed payments is concerned this seems to be pretty ubiquitous in Greece. I wouldn’t be an actor here for the world, not if I was trying to earn a living or didn’t want to be on the bread line between jobs because I hadn’t received my fee for the latest television. And, as with actors, some footballers say they have not been paid for up to a year. Some clubs have not paid insurance contributions with the result that players have gone on strike.

The survey took in twelve Eastern countries, known as the hotbed of football corruption. Greece is second only to Montenegro in the percentage of players not paid on time but, apart from this, thirty percent say they have been approached in regards to match fixing. Forty seven percent said they were aware of match fixing in their division. Six percent of players in Greece have been on the receiving end of blackmail, with sixty two percent naming their club’s administration as the culprit while another eleven percent said it was their coach. Greece is Europe’s worst country in terms of violence against players (that is until Cairo maybe) as thirty one percent said they had been victims of violence, bullying, harassment, racism and discrimination. In Turkey currently there have been numerous arrests and nineteen teams are under investigation for match fixing.

England used to be the land of spectator violence, is it still? I haven’t heard any reports on it but Greek fans are only too quick to resort to violence both on and off the pitch. I know I complained about their mindless graffiti vandalising all the road signs with their gate number, but their behaviour at matches is pretty awesome. Is it a tribal thing do you think? So much for ‘the beautiful game!’

Efforts are being made to clean up the sport but in the meantime, anyone want to play the pools?

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