The state of a country’s sports can often reflect its ills, and Lebanon’s match-fixing scandal is certainly an indicator of a corruption problem that extends far beyond the football pitch.
If there is a silver lining to be found from the banning of 24 players from future games after they were found to have fixed several, including the World Cup qualifiers Lebanon lost against Qatar, it is that it may provide an opportunity for the sport to be cleaned up.
It would be naive to think that the moves by the Football Association to uncover the match fixing did not come under significant duress from the Asian Football Confederation, but the association should nonetheless be lauded for cooperating with the investigation and bringing the corruption to light.
The incident could prove to be an example for other sectors in Lebanon, many of which have their own corruption and resultant dysfunction engrained in their operations. And while football may not change lives, the culture that allows corruption to flourish is detrimental to society as a whole, damaging trust and blocking development.
The rulings against the 24 players are confirmation that football, like other areas, needs an overhaul from the top to the bottom. The blame for the behavior of the players cannot fall squarely on their shoulders. Not only is it unlikely they acted alone, but they also did so within a system that enabled their behavior.
With the exception of basketball, sports in Lebanon have been underachieving for many years. Football players are poorly paid, with only a handful working on a professional basis. This must be addressed.
Improvements must be made to pay structure and management, so that the environment that encourages players to cheat is taken away. Hopefully this incident will provide the necessary push for those improvements to happen.
If this opportunity is not seized and radical measures are not taken to make deep and significant improvements, starting with football, then sport in Lebanon will continue to suffer and the country will not have the opportunity to fulfill the sporting potential that has been seen in the past.
Football can and should learn from the positive example basketball has set, and create a sport of which its supporters can be proud. The current situation is a disservice to both the players and its followers, who put their faith in the team and imagined they were sharing in their disappointment when they lost their games, only to discover they had been cheated.
The match-fixing revelations have tainted the best achievements of Lebanese football and dampened hopes for their future, but the measures that have been taken so far are a good first step to rectify the situation. If the Football Association continues on a path to clean up the sport, the events of this week could become a starting point for football to repay the faith of its supporters and give the Lebanese something to believe in.