Shenzhen 2011, Day 7: An eye-opening experience

For most of the week I’ve spent here in Shenzhen, nearly everywhere I look is a reminder of the purity of sport.

From the slogan of the Universiade, “start here, make a difference” to the millions (literally millions) of volunteers who are there to help with a smile on their face as they speak in the best English they can conjure. But even more so than that, the very nature of this event is a shining example of pure, clean sport.

These are students. Student athletes who play a sport they love while working towards a degree. Almost none of these athletes will make it to a professional league. A good amount of them won’t get the chance to go to Olympics. But here they are, competing for their country in the sport they love.

If ever there was a feel-good campaign for the world of sports, it would be here in Shenzhen.

But this morning, I along with my fellow participants in the young journalist program were reminded that when it comes to sport it’s not all sunshine and roses like it is at this Universiade.

Listening to a lecture from the World Lottery Association’s Risto Nieminen, we learned that basically every sport in the world has been corrupted by match fixing and gambling. We learned that organized crime has its hands wrapped around the throats of almost every major sporting event that gets TV coverage, and there is basically very little anyone can do to stop it.

For me this immediately made me think of some of the stranger plays I’ve seen in sports history. Was someone threatening Robert Greene’s family when he let in that awful goal against the U.S. in last year’s World Cup?

Did someone pay Perdita Felicien to trip over that hurdle in Athens?

These are just two examples and obviously I have no way of knowing if there was any foul play involved in these cases, but that’s exactly my point, no one does.

And furthermore, this idea isn’t something us sports fans even want to hear about. We learned today that, as a journalist, we won’t gain any popularity by exposing a match-fixing scandal. And it’s true, people want to believe in the sanctity of sport, the fact that it’s one team against another team or one individual against another individual and the better competitor wins.

I know, because I’m one of them. I would love to believe that every sport is pure, but while I’ve been skeptical of that belief for years now, after today I can honestly say I’ll never look at sports the same way again. And I’m not complaining.

We need to start questioning the purity of sport. If we don’t, what we all love so much and cheer so passionately about is nothing more than a lie. And we’re all suckers for believing it.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since its original publishing date.

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