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Let’s Be Honest: We Don’t Care About Sporting Scandal

“everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses”.

This verse lifted from the Ancient Roman poet Juvenal’s Satire X refers to the appeasement of the masses, not through progressive or meaningful political policies or exemplary leadership but rather through the gratification of the instantaneous and superficial requirements of the populace.

Panem et circenses, in the original Latin, refers more specifically to the Roman policy of distributing free wheat and laying on elaborate circuses and games as a means with which to garner political support and thus political power. 1,916 years later the phrase still holds true.

The seemingly incessant myriad of scandals emerging from a multitude of sports has garnered much media attention of the past 10 months, since the arrest of 17 FIFA officials in Zurich in May 2010. The reality is that as each new scandal emerges in each new sport the scandals gone before slip out of the limelight and into relative comfort of anonymity.

The biggest winners from the scandals in athletics, football and tennis are undoubtedly cycling and American football. Harken back to one Lance Armstrong and his relationship with the Union Cycliste Internationale in 2013 and 2014 or to the NFL’s campaign to cover up the effects of repeated concussion on their athletes. The scandals in professional cycling and American football are on-going; they never came to a conclusion.

Lance Armstrong, cyclist
Lance Armstrong, cyclist

Why don’t we travel further back in time to Chicago 1919?

The 1919 Chicago White Sox, later to be embellished with the moniker Black Sox, became embroiled in scandal when it was revealed that eight White Sox players had thrown the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for money from gamblers. The legacy that scandal leaves behind is emblazoned on every clubhouse wall, a reminder to players, coaches and umpires that betting on baseball is illegal and will result in a one year ban and, fittingly enough, three strikes and you’re banned for life.

What effect did the corruption of America’s past time have on stadium attendance? The answer is none. After the briefest of declines, the overall attendance trend since 1919 at Major League stadiums has been upward from an average attendance of 5,000 in 1919 to an average attendance of 30,000 in 2015. In a more micro cycle, since the 2013 to 2015 NFL concussion scandal, stadium attendances and viewership have risen.

What we can take from these examples is simple enough.

As Michael Lewis writes at the beginning of The Big Short “…if mere scandal could have destroyed the big Wall Street investment banks, they’d have vanished long ago”.

The same is true for sporting organisations and sports themselves. Our perpetual need to be placated and entertained has overtaken our ability as consumers to vote with our morals.

We may claim to care and feign concern for the welfare of the sports we purport to love, but when the whistle blows and the game begins, our need to be gratified instantly takes over and our disgust at wrongdoing fades into the background.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.