(c) Steven Pisano
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40 things to keep in mind about the Tennis match fixing scandal

A new investigation alleges top level tennis is a bit of a racket. But does it really matter?

Hawk-eyed journos have apparently discovered players accepting back-handers in exchange for some deuced unsporting behaviour. Is the entire tennis establishment at fault, or is this the work of a few bad (if top) seeds? Can the sport rally round? Or are we set to see some of its biggest stars in court (or even the grand slammer)?

Whatever the final outcome, it seems likely that some stars with feet of clay are about to get grassed up. Here are three (that’s 40 to tennis fans) things it would serve us well to keep in mind:

15. They’ve been caught using something worse than their alleged crimes

No, not Buzzfeed, the co-investigators with the BBC. I mean sports betting. Analyses of sports betting helped the investigation uncover unusual patterns in global betting, suggestive of match-fixing. Now, I’m pretty liberal. I’m okay with legal gambling. But let’s not pretend it’s anything but a damaging drain on the already stretched finances of the poorest.

Focusing on whether the games are played fairly, while ignoring the fact that the outrage is mainly about societal parasites like bookies losing money (boo hoo), seems an odd set of priorities.

30. They are athletes, not Jesus

Elite sports people are also not saints, pastors or your Daddy. The expectation that top level tennis players are likely to be morally superior to anyone else is childish, just as all similar expectations of sportspeople are childish. It’s time for us to grow up and realise the obvious theological truth that all human beings have the capacity for sin.

We can be disappointed when we discover sportspeople snorting coke (and there are an awful lot of white lines to tempt them in most sports), but we shouldn’t pretend to be surprised. Similarly, when we discover dishonesty, let’s call it what it is: a moral failing – but let’s not pretend that the fact that these are sportspeople makes it any worse than when bankers or cops or politicians fail.

The fact that people are foolish enough to see sportspeople as role-models (or, worse, to encourage their children to do so) should not be the sportspeople’s problem. They signed up to focus more attention on their bodies than any normal human being would ordinarily have the luxury to. They occupy a world in which they can earn in a day more than many hard-working families around the world will see in a lifetime – and think that normal. They are encouraged to hone their minds into hard, keen-edged competition machines, to do whatever it takes to triumph over obstacles – human, physical or psychological. They spend their lives focusing on achieving goals that are very rarely altruistic and we encourage them to do so every day with our adulation when they win and our fickle abandonment when they lose.

When they turn out not to be Mother Teresa, we can acknowledge that, even punish them. But let’s save the shock horror routine for something that matters.

40. It doesn’t matter

Because here’s the thing. This really doesn’t matter. The way people talk about cheats, match-fixers or those caught doping in sport, you’d be forgiven for thinking that what happens on the sports field (court/pitch/ring/track) is real life. That it makes a difference. But you know it doesn’t, right? I know it’s entertaining. I know it’s impressive. I know we get attached to the sportspeople we admire, but they are not really heroes. Their winning or losing has no bearing on the wellbeing of the world.

Yesterday, Oxfam released a report revealing that the richest 62 people in the world own the wealth of half the world’s population. That matters. The situation for Syrians who’ve fled their ravaged country is still desperate and all we can talk about is one of the players in that slow-moving disaster. That matters.

I know it’s painfully earnest, I know it’s a buzzkill, but honestly: thinking one guy was the best at hitting a ball over a net when in fact the other guy was really better is just not important. Yes, you can say the same about a lot of trivialities I’m perfectly happy to care about, and I’m not saying don’t watch it, don’t enjoy it or even don’t care about it.

I’m just saying that while dishonesty is always wrong, this is wrong in the same way that cheating at Monopoly is wrong. Only in this case it makes the BBC news. For some bizarre reason.

Jesus doesn’t care who wins Wimbledon. So maybe we should tone down our outrage too. 

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Thoughts on the latest trends, topics, news and culture from a Christian perspective.

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