Hero: A football-themed hero and villain post today. Last week (was it only last week?) the elegantly understated South Island city of Christchurch was flattened, both physically and in soul, by the second major earthquake in six months. Three days later, with dust and smoke still hanging over the city and the number of missing people still unclear, it was decided that the 2nd round Super 15 Rugby match between the Canterbury Crusaders and the Wellington Hurricanes should be cancelled and the result declared a draw. The Crusaders are the most successful team in the history of the three-nations rugby tournament, having won it seven times. In a nation where rugby is more a religion than a game, this achievement gives the team an aura of greatness up there with the All Blacks – which many of the Canterbury players represent. Last night, 10 days after the earthquake, the Crusaders lined up against the NSW Waratahs in Nelson (NZ), wearing the red and white of the NZ west coast (instead of their customary red and black) to honour the victims of the Pike River mine tragedy last year, and running on the raw power of emotion that has kept the people of Christchurch going for the past 10 days, as well as the raw power of a peerless rugby team. They did not disappoint: the result, 33-18 to the Crusaders. New Zealand hasn’t had a lot to smile about over the past 10 days, but there would have been some happy faces in Christchurch last night.
Villain: Given the amount of money to be made in professional sport, it is hardly surprising that match fixing and gambling by players and other insiders is a subject never far below the surface gloss of the football season. Late in the 2010 NRL season, huge bets were placed on a particular play in a match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the North Queensland Cowboys. Bets that were big enough to raise suspicion and when that play, a penalty goal to the Cowboys as the first score in the game, eventuated, accusations that a Bulldogs player had deliberately allowed the penalty were levelled. Last week football manager Sam Ayoub and former player John Elias were arrested on charges of attempting to “obtain financial advantage by deception” (just love police euphemisms) and Bulldogs player, Ryan Tandy is facing charges of providing misleading information to a NSW Crime Commission enquiry. Match fixing, or its equivalent, occurs in sports across the board where money is at stake, but insiders using the privilege of their positions to influence outcomes and make money is, quite simply, corruption. It also reduces sport to the level of grubby gutter money-making which is demeaning to the majority of players for whom it is a livelihood, and the fans, for whom it is, in many cases, a life. Unfortunately where there is big money to be made there will always be corrupt people ready to make it, but the league needs to expose the practice to the full light of public scrutiny if it is to maintain the integrity of the game.