Cam Cole: Fair play took a beating in 2015

 

Litany of abuses: Whether soccer, football, hockey, track and field or swimming, the ugly reality is governing bodies are casting a blind eye to doping and concussions

 
 
 
 
Suspended FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been banned from running international soccer for eight years, but there are no guarantees he won’t be replaced by another leader who is only slightly less corrupt.
 

Suspended FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been banned from running international soccer for eight years, but there are no guarantees he won’t be replaced by another leader who is only slightly less corrupt.

Photograph by: Philipp Schmidli, Getty Images

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Regular readers of this column will recognize a tendency to lean toward the glass-half-empty side.

It’s a fault, this constantly finding fault, and perhaps it needs to go on the New Year’s resolution list: Don’t worry, be happy.

Fine, we’ll start tomorrow.

Today, peering into the crystal ball as a lover of sports, if not a fan, 2016 still seems to offer a murky picture, requiring a suspension of disbelief on a scale even the truest of true believers may have trouble achieving.

The idea of the level playing field — the most basic article of faith that allows us to lose ourselves in athletic contests, hanging our emotions on the outcomes — took a beating in 2015.

Fair play? As a fan, where are you with that?

You love soccer, but the world federation that controls the game turns out to be a collection of extortionists and bribe-takers, and World Cups that might have gone to places that elevate the sport instead have been bought by Russia and (you don’t know whether to laugh or cry) Qatar.

You love the Olympics, but can you trust what your eyes see? Track and field has a world power, Russia, whose athletes have been given a free pass by their drug testers and have been complicit in a state-sponsored doping program, not the first and probably not the last country to cheat on a grand scale.

The IAAF, like FIFA, like world cycling before them, has expressed shock (shock!) at these developments, while getting rid of leaders who no doubt will be replaced by others only slightly less corrupt.

What would you bet on a clean bill of health given to every Kenyan, Chinese and (dare we say) Jamaican world record holder once those countries fall under fully compliant WADA drug testing programs … whatever that means?

You love swimming, but international coaches now say the sport is rife with doped-up athletes and FINA won’t act because it needs its stars to keep setting world records, the same dilemma faced by every sport, everywhere.

You love football, but you are not so naive as to think drug testing is actually catching many of the growth hormone-inflated laboratory rats you cheer for every week, or that the leagues care.

You love the highlight-reel, blow-up hits that the pro leagues promote more heavily than feats of skill, but how do you balance that thrill with the knowledge that every player who lowers his helmet to use it as a weapon not only is damaging his brain from repetitive blows, but is also inflicting concussions on his opponents?

You love hockey fights, and those rock ’em, sock ’em mid-ice hits, but are you OK with the idea of your gladiators ending up as brain-addled 60-year-olds, or suicides, as long as they entertain you today?

You hear the stories, and wonder if you dare enrol your child in football or hockey or soccer, knowing how erratically concussions can be treated or glossed over.

You do the math and wonder whether you can afford to put him or her in hockey, given its prohibitive cost. Or whether you can still manage the money it costs to attend NHL games, or whether you should abandon that folly to the corporations.

You love watching sports on TV, but lately every game is bogged down in video-replay reviews of incidents that, many times, are subject to just another set of eyes making the same judgment calls on inconclusive evidence.

But you’re a fan, so maybe you turn off all that background noise. You apply no standards to your heroes other than what they do on the field of play. Every fight was started by the other guys. The referees, the umpires, even the play-by-play and colour commentators are biased against your team.

You overvalue your team’s players, who have never committed a dirty play but are victims of them every game.

In short, you believe.

You have faith that the sheer volume of criticism and scrutiny of those scandalized alphabet soup organizations — FIFA, UCI, IAAF, FINA, NFL, CFL, NCAA, NHL — will force them to evolve, maybe not in the next year or even five, but over time.

You see the Concussion movie, and you are certain that mounting lawsuits will force all sports to develop strict protocols that teams don’t blithely ignore, and leagues will punish those teams that do, and stop denying the science for the sake of saving money.

You are a fan, and you still believe in the fallen legends, in Tiger and Kobe and Peyton, in Notre Dame and Man U and the Cowboys. You are sure that this time, the Cubs are really going to do it, that the Leafs are on the road to recovery, that Federer has one more Grand Slam win in him.

You are a fan. Your world is better than mine. I salute you.

ccole@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
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Suspended FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been banned from running international soccer for eight years, but there are no guarantees he won’t be replaced by another leader who is only slightly less corrupt.
 

Suspended FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been banned from running international soccer for eight years, but there are no guarantees he won’t be replaced by another leader who is only slightly less corrupt.

Photograph by: Philipp Schmidli, Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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