When sports and gambling mix together, there can be a lot of money and a lot of happy punters but also, where there is money, there are fixed matches, races and other forms of competition. These paid matches and races can really turn a sport inside out and reveal its darkest secrets.
Many fighting based sports were victim to such behavior and so were other types of individual sports. Many sports and athletes have suffered because of such a bond. Does this affect the world of pro cycling?
Far Worse Than Doping – Corruption
Doping has been cycling’s darkest spot. It was always there, from its inception and it persists even today, regardless of the UCI’s statements that the scene is cleaner. Even though there are various biological passports and drug tests one must take to participate in any professional event, not to mention unscheduled drug tests, athletes find a way of enhancing their body with drugs, and if not with drugs, then other ways of cheating.
Since the spotlight moved away from drugs to corruption, it’s time to address the elephant in the room, the fact that deals and handshakes behind the scene are not really frowned upon in cycling. It is considered normal for someone to trade first place in a sprint for a first place in a stage. When a referee fails to call for an offside or a basketball player fails to hit a very easy shot under the hoop, everybody wants to form a mob and organize a witch hunt, the witch being the person paid behind the scenes.
In cycling, however, these kinds of deals and trading is considered normal and quite frankly, always present. Sometimes, there is a favor involved in such a trade, or a gesture of good will towards a previous team member or sometimes, a lot of money.
A very easy-to-spot event of trading can be seen on stage 19 of the 2011 Giro d’Italia, near the finish line. Paolo Tiralongo won the stage, even though Alberto Contador was not only able to beat him, but was also filmed talking to the man, then failing to finish before Tiralongo. The two being former teammates, this is seen as an act of a gentleman, something even to be praised rather than scorned.
This type of behavior is what makes cycling earn its name “chess on wheels”. When people organize their stages and sprints beforehand, they tend to make deals with the other favorites, the strong racers so that everybody gets a jersey (title) at a grand tour.
The Fight Against Corruption
Many races do not really have anything in their rules and regulations which bans corruption. Countries, however, do and Australia is one of them. Match-fixing is illegal in Australia and events which compromise the integrity of the sport and affect the bets placed on the matches are also illegal or will be, if the law is passed.
Since cycling does not generate as much betting attention as football or cricket or other, more popular sports, anti-corruption spokespeople are left in the dust.
Once the limelight moves towards cycling, things will change.
Until that happens, gentlemanly deals in cycling will continue to happen, as well as other forms of gaining advantages, but what that will do to cycling, remains to be seen.