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Gambling, Drugs, Sport and the GFC

Monday, 4 March 2013  | Bruce Wearne

We were engaged in our regular weekly conversation - with the driver and a few others who regularly join in on our early-morning bus trip "chat". The topics are wide-ranging and recently someone mentioned the GFC. The conversation continued on. We discussed the way things have unfolded since 2007 and why the GFC has not gone away. Indeed, said one of our group, things have been pretty good since 2007. A bit up-and-down but pretty good overall. Some of us were looking at each other with raised eyebrows. Was Albie "going off" on one of his rambles again? Oh well...

After 2007 we showed 'em. In 2009 and 2011 we showed 'em. We'll be there again in 2013, you just wait and see. Every second year. That's us. The Geelong Football Club. "We are Geelong, the greatest team of all."  

The penny dropped. We were no longer discussing as we had thought. This was not about the "Global Financial Crisis". Not any more. We had moved on to safer topics, topics less political, topics less controversial.  

Less political? My local paper has just arrived. You know, the paper that is a few pages of local news wrapped around real estate advertising. The bold headlines shout out: "Cats squeaky clean!" Of course. We knew that already. Fancy our region's AFL team becoming implicated in drug cheating! Impossible.  

Yes, and so we now find our sporting interests hitting the front pages of our newspapers in new ways. The Tour de Farce. The "world game" exposed for its corrupted competition. Is there a market for placing a bet on which attempt to fix a game will succeed? Organised game fixing is linked to organised crime. I have even heard it suggested that attempts by governments to reduce local betting on games will simply increase the odds for off-shore illegal betting ergo the free market in gambling is the failsafe way of fighting organised crime. Supposedly, you can bet on it! And of course one of our local AFL Clubs, yes the other one, the one that claims to produce squeaky-clean naked calendars, is already sponsored by a betting agency.  

What can we say to Mr Demitriou the AFL CEO? He pleads, "Please don't lose faith in the AFL!" That says it all. Mr Demitriou thinks that the true enjoyment of "Aussie Rules" is to be found in the circus of football slavery that he oversees. He is wrong.  

The payment for AFL muscles,

Makes an idol for biblical fools.

Their drugging gets lost in their betting

But we will still play Aussie Rules!

Indeed Mr Demitriou is quite wrong. But how do we get footy back onto the right path? How do we now proceed in this discussion? How should this issue function in our political reflections. Are there any prominent people speaking out who can direct us to the right path? A book by a former Labor parliamentarian, Lindsay Tanner, Politics with Purpose: Occasional Observations on Public and Private Life 2012, might provide a clue. Tanner has said that Labor Party's "culture and approach is in need of radical overhaul". This book document his persistent attempts in Parliament to encourage fellow Labor members, and anyone else who may have been listening, to look again at our way of life. A political party in Tanner's terms promotes a way of life. His appeal is to "politics with purpose", which is less obsessive and less arrogant. Consider what he says about a UK University, Southhampton Solent University, and its decision to grant an honorary doctorate in business administration to Shane Warne:

… the message was clear: higher-learning is all a bit of a laugh, just funny people in funny hats. … I'm a serious cricket fan, like many other Australians, but I'm even more passionate about learning. When sporting celebrities proudly announce they've never read a book, they're telling young Australians that learning is for nerds ("Labor is for Learning" p. 307).

I doubt whether Tanner's comment upset Southhampton Solent University's V-C. Nor would he have lost much sleep from wondering whether he had got himself into Shane Warne's "bad books" - if indeed Shane has "bad books". But as a public appeal he has rightly challenged the fake celebrity-ism that has now entrapped higher education and, we might add, through that entrapment entire systems of national education around the world have been harnessed into a way of way of life that dumbs down politics and bows to consumerism. What elite universities have you heard lately issuing a criticism of consumerism, or to consumerised sport? Sure relatively little known academies may scrap around in order to grant doctorates to celebrities. But this is a culture is denial of genuine political responsibility, implies Tanner. It is a way of life committed to a path that denies integral neighbourly responsibility.

In Tanner's case he is addressing the party he has served for so long. He is asking the party: How can the ALP be a true champion of higher education if it no longer speaks out against mindless consumerism? This is the same mind-set that R H Tawney pin-pointed as The Acquisitive Society (1926). It was a mind-set that found an niche in the British labour Party for a generation. It was also, as Kevin Rudd reminded us, integral to the ALP for much of the 20th century. For Tanner (and maybe Rudd 007) speaking out about this mindless dumbing down of politics is an important part of promoting justice. And justice is not just a useful to be used in parliament when new laws need to be justified. Nor is it a word to be used when one is demanding what one needs. ("I want it. I need it!") For Tanner, it is justice that requires a person to speak out when something is not given its due respect.

The GFC continues to send out its after-tremors world-wide. We are still in that crisis. "We ain't seen nuttin' yet!" And the GFC keeps rolling. Meanwhile the bank accounts of celebrity footballers and cricketers increase game by game, more from one game that most spectators can ever hope to amass for their superannuation. And it is not just the spectators who are living in cuckoo-land. These same players expect supporter loyalty to their team, at least as long as they haven't been enticed by a more lucrative contract.

How can we ever suggest that playing sport is merely a matter of healthy recreation? To deny the epithet "profession" to sport seems utopian, to fly in the face of reality. But that is the stupid reality we face. It is simply poor stewardship and most know it. We need genuine recreation that is unfettered from "killer instincts", "whatever it takes" and "win at all costs". We certainly need play that is emancipated from brawling, drugs, match-fixing and gambling. Our play needs redemption.

Wise management of public resources for health or education systems over the long term will have to find a way to free hospitals, schools and universities from funding that accrues from the taxes imposed on the gambling industry. Political parties that want to address these issues as they should be addressed will not only have to forego donations from the gambling industry. The blandishments of drug companies and allied companies producing “as much as it takes” dietary supplements for sporting prowess will have to be resisted just as much.



Ray Walker
March 7, 2013, 11:41AM
I did enjoy your article. Gambling and drugs in sport is very much based on greed where governance by those in authority is being questioned, largely dominated by the almighty dollar. Andrew Demetriou's salary for example is largely determined by how much he can extract out of the TV rights. The success of Geelong that you referred to was driven by its former President, Frank Costa, coming from a strong ethical Christian family background. There is hope which will turn for the better when quality people emerge to ensure that Sport is under the control of people of character and courage and, who are there because of their love of the game and strong desire to rid it of the scourge of vices that now dominate society.

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