Authorities should come down hard on Damien Oliver if found guilty.
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SOAPBOX: If Damien Oliver is found guilty of betting he needs a harsh penalty, not a slap on the wrist...
As soon as The Sunday Age broke the story about Damien Oliver's alleged bet of $10,000 on a horse he was riding against, the rush to defend the Hall of Fame jockey has been swift from those involved in the industry.
Sure, he lost some sweet rides from trainers and owners keen to distance themselves from the controversy in the wake of the Danny Nikolic saga, but there have been sections of the industry that have tried to portray Oliver as a victim.
While there has been deserved condemnation in the news pages of the daily newspapers for the alleged bet, it has not been universal. Some prominent racing journalists, such as Herald Sun scribe Matt Stewart, have been claiming that the practice is common and shouldn't be any major cause for alarm as long as there was no suspicion of fixing.
You only have to look as far as the Lance Armstrong doping scandal to see where the "everyone else is doing it" defence leads. If betting by jockeys is a common practice then the time to speak out is at hand and harsh penalties should still be meted out. This is important because the integrity of the racing industry is vital to its popularity.
The spring carnival can consider itself under siege this year with three major scandals rocking the sport already (Oliver, Nikolic and also allegations that jockey Mark Zahra received a kick-back in a race won by Nikolic). How the stewards handle these cases will go a long way to ensuring the Spring Carnival maintains its popularity.
You only have to look at the way corruption has infected cricket and its ensuing drop off in popularity. Each summer, the crowds get smaller - particularly for the limited overs matches that have been prone to fixing - and TV ratings fall. Any match involving Pakistan is treated with suspicion by many observers, regardless of what has happened on the pitch.
Of course, cricket's popularity plunge can't be attributed solely to the various betting and corruption crises that have hit the sport. Match-fixing scandals involving Saleem Malik, Mohammad Azharuddin and Hansie Cronje in the 1990s and the recent jailing of three Pakistani cricketers for spot fixing hurt the sport's reputation, but the game has also battled for market share in an increasingly crowded landscape. However, racing officials need not look far for other sports that have been ravaged by scandal.
Cycling is sure to suffer in the wake of the Armstrong doping debacle, while boxing has already been through that cycle. It used to be a major sport, with heavyweight champions well known around the world. With its credibility badly diluted by corruption and its influence splintered among countless governing bodies, it is little more than a niche sport.
If the integrity of any sporting result can be brought into question, it is a cancer that eats away at the sport and leaves nothing but a hollow shell. This is why race stewards must act swiftly and harshly if Oliver is found guilty. There is just too much at stake.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
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