Belfast Telegraph

We're all losers if the trust goes out of sport

By Simon Kelner

I can't have been the only one who had an uncharitable thought on hearing the news that Rafael Nadal had been knocked out in the first round of the Australian Open. Was it fixed? Did Rafa throw the match?

Of course it wasn't fixed: the ultra-competitive Spaniard would be horrified at the very suggestion.

And that aside, this is a Grand Slam event - no one would throw a match of such importance and certainly not when tennis is under so much scrutiny.

So, we can assume that Fernando Verdasco's victory over Nadal - a man who had beaten him 14 times in their previous 16 encounters - was exactly as presented: a surprise result.

The trouble is that once a cloud of suspicion hangs over a sport it becomes impossible to have a clear view of what is happening on the field of combat.

The revelation that even tennis - a tranquil, well-mannered pastime - may not be as clean as we believed has discomfited those of us who love sport.

We have become used to the fact that very little in the world of athletics or cycling is as it seems, while football, snooker and cricket - games which attract an inordinate amount of gambling - have lived through their own match-fixing scandals throughout the years.

Sport may be a glorious irrelevance, but it matters to people way beyond any tribal, or partisan, allegiance.

At its best, it is an art form.

Who can say there isn't anything poetic about Lionel Messi? Or Roger Federer? These are the men at the pinnacle of their respective sports.

Sport can define cultural and national identity.

It can give meaning to lives that have none.

At the heart of it all, however, is trust; the trust that everything you see, every game you play, every contest you have, is real. We know the governing bodies of some world sports have been riddled with corruption.

Men can line their pockets and give the World Cup to the most unsuitable country on earth, as long as the simple integrity of what takes place on the field is not undermined.

In the end, the purity of the action, the fact that the naked eye can see everything that's happening, is the only thing we care about.

And the damage to tennis of a climate in which we see a forehand and think of a backhander is incalculable.

Belfast Telegraph


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