The Importance of Being in the Zone

It would be unfair to say too much about the guilt or innocence of Stephen Lee with regard to his 12 year ban for throwing snooker matches and individual frames. Though he has been found guilty in the first instance by the sport’s dedicated anti-corruption unit, Lee continues to protest his innocence and has lodged an appeal. It’s worth waiting for the appeal to run its course before making much more comment on the question of his guilt.

What has interested me most about the media coverage has been the attempt to qualify and explain why he might have chosen to deliberately throw either an entire contest or part of it. Apparently, Lee either gave away the first frame in matches he was expected to win (most notably against Mark King, who was evidently hacked off by the concept of an opponent taking the piss), or losing by pre-agreed scorelines on occasions when he had already anticipated the possibility of defeat.

So that makes it…sort of ok, and creates clear blue water between Lee (if guilty) and the likes of Hansie Cronje? Er, not quite.

First up, there is something unpleasant about the concept of a world class performer in any sport accepting that the next match is going to be his or her last in that tournament. Competitors intent on victory put all other possibilities to the back of their mind and go into the first frame, round or set utterly convinced that this it their time.  A player or fighter comfortable with the notion of losing is by definition more likely to er, lose.

This taps into two problems that seem to have been lost by the governing bodies of many sports, a lack of awareness that has also spread to the media outlets that report on and broadcast them. Significant prize money and a lucrative betting market are a recipe for corrupted contests that are less than on the level. The biggest threat to the Premier League, a commerical monster that inhabits an economic climate removed from that experienced by the rest of us, is a match-fixing scandal akin to Calciopoli in Serie A back in 2006.

I mean, would anyone really be shocked to hear of fixed Premier League matches?

Then there’s the simple fact that without the trust of spectators, a sport is nothing. There are no shades here, we’re dealing in absolutes. As fans, we need to know that what we are watching is an honest contest in which the competitors are going flat out to win, totally without compromise, at all times, that they inhabit a zone where allowing the opponent to get on the scoreboard, or bowling a deliberate no-ball or wide is a thought that does not dare cross the mind of a genuine competitor.

Sport that takes place entirely in this zone is the only sport worth bothering with, anything beneath that standard is bollocks. Governing bodies and their media chums would do well to remember that and show some respect to the fans who make a sport what it is.

That’s me for the night – don’t let the bastards grind you down.

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