When trust is broken in sport

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Yesterday it occurred to me that a fundamental principle of sport and of investing your time, passion and belief in following sport is one of trust.

Trust is an incredibly big word. What does it mean? Who do we trust and what happens when that trust is shattered?

Firstly, let’s consider ‘trust’ from the viewpoint of the athletes. Who do they trust?

They trust their parents to drive them from sporting commitment to sporting commitment as they are growing up. They trust their coaches at the junior level to support them, help them and encourage them to be their best.

So, what happens at more senior levels of sport? Who do young athletes trust? Should they trust anyone at all?

Perhaps if you are an AFL footballer, you shouldn’t trust anyone, which to some is a fair assessment after Tuesday’s breaking scandal, I mean breaking news, at the Essendon Football Club?

I have no doubt that these young men ‘trusted’ the staff employed by the football club to take care of their needs as professional footballers.

Surely, Essendon’s management would take their duty of care for the health and well being of their employees (and remember, we are talking about employees here) seriously.

How could that not be a priority?

Surely, Essendon’s management would be aware of the fitness and training programs being dished out and of the ‘supplements’ being given to players?

What kind of an organisation would not be protecting their most valuable assets?

What makes a football club viable and competitive is healthy, fit and talented players. It would be fair to assume that Essendon’s management is aware of this fairly basic principle.

But then again, we all know what assumption is the mother of.

So, from the viewpoint of the players, it is fair to suppose that their trust in the club’s management and leadership has been severely battered, if not destroyed.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking and you are probably formulating your response to this piece, that no one forced the players to accept the supplements and they should have acted more responsibly.

I do agree with this. Any athlete knows the buck stops with them. They are responsible for what goes into their bodies and they will bear any penalty if they are found to be in breach of anti-doping regulations.

But, you know what, if there is anything I have figured out in life, it is that we often put our trust in others, even if it turns out to be misguided.

If I was a young athlete playing at an elite level, where I am under the assumption (yep, there’s that word again) that the club, my employers, take a keen interest in my health and well being, then you know what, I doubt I would have asked the questions that many are saying these players should have.

It’s easy for us to make judgements, especially if we take the word trust out of our thinking. Sometimes we forget what it’s like to be young, to put our faith in those around who us, who tell us that we should trust their judgement.

Also, how well educated are athletes in the area of ‘sports science’? There are some in elite sports who insist that these supplements are beneficial, even necessary for athletes to recover.

There are also those like, former Anti-Doping Agency director Nicki Vance, who is quoted as saying these supplements are “very expensive urine” and the benefits for AFL players are questionable.

But trust in sport doesn’t just reside in athletes needing to trust the professionals around them to act with integrity. There is a bond between sport and spectators that is also heavily invested with trust.

I’m not going to comment further on Lance Armstrong and the breach of trust at the heart of cycling’s monumental scandal. There has been enough said on that.

I’m also not going to discuss my bewilderment that it is my beloved Bombers who have broken the hearts of their fans. Sean Lee has done a far better job at than I could and if you haven’t read his piece, published on Wednesday on The Roar, then make sure you do.

Again, to make a further reference to cycling, Tim Renowden’s piece, also published on Wednesday, on race fixing is far more educated and eloquent than anything I can write, so read that if you haven’t already done so.

What I am going to say is this. My trust in sport has been shattered.

I can withstand cycling’s woes and continue to passionately follow the sport. Can I still follow the Bombers? Yes, I will always be a Bombers fan and I will always view the world with one red eye and one black.

But, you know what, this scandal has taken me to the edge. On top of it all is news from Europe about rampant match fixing.

Our trust in sport is teetering on a precipice. Sporting clubs, bodies and administrators need to understand that the public invests not just it’s time into following codes, games, matches, but what we really invest in sport is our trust.

It is the magical sporting moments from our childhood and our adult lives that bond us to the sports we passionately watch, write about and love.

When that trust is broken, so too is the sport we choose to support.

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