Compiled by Kotie Geldenhuys
The late Hansie Cronjé, South Africa's former cricket captain, was a national hero until cricket's biggest match-fixing scandal destroyed him. In 2000, South Africans and cricket lovers across the world were shocked when Hansie's name was connected with being involved in match-fixing. Eventually he admitted that he had been taking bribes from bookmakers to influence matches since 1996. But Hansie is not the only sportsman involved in match-fixing and crimes like these can be regarded as an aspect of transnational organised crime.
The relationship between sport and crime is complex and it arouses debate, since different people hold different opinions. To some people, sport is a bastion of physical prowess and moral virtue. Because sport involves following the rules and playing fair, it is considered a vehicle to steer young people away from crime and to rehabilitate offenders (www.interpol.int/ Crime-areas/Crimes-in-sport/Integrity-in-sport). Globally there are many programmes in which sport is used as a method of crime control. In many townships, small towns and gang-ridden areas in South Africa, sport is used successfully to keep children and young people busy and away from crime.
Sport brings people from different languages, cultures and belief systems together. We live in a sport-mad world where people are willing to pay huge amounts of money to buy tickets to support their rugby, soccer, cricket and other sports teams. Some will travel aboard to watch tennis at Wimbledon, the Monaco Grand Prix or the Tour de France. Others will spend 24/7 in front of the television to see how athletes perform at the different world championships or Olympic Games. These supporters seldom think that some of these sporting heroes, coaches, clubs and sport managers (and sometimes supporters) might be involved in criminal behaviour such as corruption, doping, discrimination, violence, hooliganism, match-fixing and illegal gambling. Crimes such as these undermine the integrity of sport.
Does it start at school level?
Sport is already a major activity at school level and it makes one wonder whether crimes in sport do not already start at that level - although not with the same intensity as transnational organised crime. The South African Rugby Union (SARU) is concerned about the increased usage of steroids among school rugby players, since in recent times, there have been numerous reports of doping at school level. Former Lions coach John Mitchell has expressed his concern by saying: "In South Africa, doping is an issue that starts at schoolboy level. The game is taken very seriously and players are often put under pressure to perform from parents and coaches alike" (www.sport24.co.za/Rugby/ saru-concerned-over-schoolboy-steroid-abuse-20160121). Cross-sectional studies conducted in high schools (internationally) have shown an increasing trend of supplement use in athletes under 18. One particular South African study indicated that 55% of rugby playing schoolboys in the study sample had used some form of supplement, starting from as young as ten years old (www.news24.com/Video/Sport/ study-55-of-schoolboy-rugby-players-use-a-supplement-20160808).
However, this is not the only problem that starts at school level. How often do we hear about top schools in South Africa offering bursaries to learners who excel in sports such as rugby? The question to ask is whether this practice is legal and ethical. Mr Paul Colditz, the CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), says that the recruitment of learners in schools who are gifted in sports is an unacceptable practice and can even be illegal when bursaries are used to lure learners to a specific school. He said that this practice is not good because of the real reason for schooling, namely to educate learners. Mr Colditz described this practice as a "trade in children" as parents trade their children's sports talent for bursaries. In a document Mr Colditz wrote a couple of years ago for Fedsas about the legality of bursaries in schools, he made it clear that a school's finances can only be used for educational purposes or for the execution of the governing body's work. According to the document, only parents who do not have the financial means to pay school fees can qualify to receive discounts or free education. Unfortunately, in many cases, the gifted children of wealthy parents receive bursaries. Mr Colditz also questioned the ethics behind sport unions and clubs who sponsor gifted learners to go to top schools, but added that it is a different situation when a child in need receives a bursary to attend a top school (Van Staden, 2017).
Sport has a link to transnational organised crime
Organised criminal syndicates operate on a massive scale and target a wide range of sports. Criminals who wish to manipulate the outcomes of matches approach players, referees, managers and coaches, who often fall for these criminals' dodgy deals.