We are all suitably shocked by Justice Minister Jason Clare’s announcement of the findings of the Australian Crime Commission’s investigation into the use of prohibited substances and links to organized crime in sports. I heard his solemn announcement as I was driving home, past our local croquet club, and wondered if any code was exempt.
Sport in Australia has never been entirely clean. Most people of my age have enough stories from the racetracks to bore our dinner guests for hours. But we also recall an era when league football was an outlet for suburban tribalism, when a player for Collingwood or Port Adelaide actually lived in Collingwood or Port Adelaide, when white-clad cricketers played on green grounds surrounded by white fences, and when the only signs of commercialism were the vendors of Four’n Twenty or Adams Pies.
Over the years, however, sports have transformed from community activities to market activities. They have become part of the entertainment “industry”. In fact, government regulators, lawyers and insurers have done their best, through liability requirements, to make life hard for those who are old-fashioned enough to think sport is something that comes together through voluntary activity.
With the financial stakes so elevated, is it any wonder that corruption has been attracted to sport?
In 1944 the Austrian economic philosopher Karl Polanyi, in his work The Great Transformation, warned that the postwar era could see a change in the relationship between markets and society. Throughout history markets had been contained within society, subject to society’s norms, and often confined to certain physical or temporal domains. The transformation he warned about was the reversal of that order, when we would come to live in a “market society”. That transformation, which gathered pace with the election of the Reagan and Thatcher Governments, is now well advanced.
Will our politicians see the sport corruption problem in this broad context – a context which would require them to think about the expansion of financial incentives throughout our society?
Whatever our politicians do, I think the local croquet club will come through clean. The cars parked around their ground are modest. No one has bought advertising space on their white dresses. And no health insurance firm has bought sponsorship rights to interrupt spectators’ enjoyment.