Does anybody remember laughter …

The Million Dollar Question – Is it just me getting old fashioned or is sports really changing too fast ?

Is the modern day sportsperson chasing that dream so hard that its becoming difficult to make him the role model ? At some stage we are inherently uncomfortable with the concept of watching a sportsperson competing for just money. Or at least we like to fool ourselves into believing that there is more to it.

From a Gideon Haigh article

On December 2, 1977 to be precise, Australian cricket lovers turning on their television sets had for the first time a choice in their bill of fare. Live from the Gabba on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation came the soothing sights and sounds of a traditional Test, the first of a series against India. Live from Melbourne’s VFL Park on Channel 9, meanwhile, came the unfamiliar images of what purported to be a revolutionary new variant on the game: a Supertest, brought to you by World Series Cricket.

The play itself, between an Australian team led by Ian Chappell and a West Indian outfit captained by Clive Lloyd, did not actually look all that different. The ball was red. The players wore white and sported caps. The Australian headgear, though, was gold not green and it was such distinctions of detail that mattered. There were no traditions here. The ground, usually the preserve of Australian rules, had been converted by the installation of a pitch grown in a greenhouse. The television coverage, rather than relying on the usual two cameras, used eight, with extensive reliance on video replays. Microphones embedded in the ground near the stumps captured the players’ grunts and the wickets’ rattle; a boundary interviewer even solicited their post-dismissal musings. Critics were already calling this a pirate enterprise: its symbol, a stylised set of black stumps partially enclosing an outsized red cricket ball, would become the game’s equivalent of the skull and crossbones.

Cricket had been cleft in twain almost six months. The first plans for WSC and the first international cricketers recruited by the agents of its impresario Kerry Packer, had been revealed in April 1977. The principles seemingly at stake – love of country versus love of money, a century of tradition versus spontaneous spectacle – had been endlessly debated. But until that December morn, the rivalry’s implications had been obscure. Packer’s original objective, indeed, had not been to introduce an alternative brand of cricket at all. His eyes were on the prize of exclusive Test match broadcasting rights in Australia; WSC was merely a roundabout way of bending the Australian Cricket Board to his will. Now it was a twin-match, twin-tour, twin-channel reality. “The public will decide,” pronounced the editor of Wisden, Norman Preston.

The public issued what looked like a decision that very day. Where there were no traditions, there were also no spectators. While about 12,000 attended the Brisbane Test, fewer than 500 were scattered round the concrete tiers of VFL Park where space could be found for 80,000. Packer had more stars than Broadway: the Chappells, Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, Doug Walters, David Hookes versus Lloyd, Viv Richards, Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, with Tony Greig, Barry Richards, Mike Procter, Imran Khan and Asif Iqbal to come. But for what, punters pondered, were they playing? It clearly was not for their country. It looked, uncomfortably, as though they might be playing for money.

The concept of the professional sportsperson in itself, is not that bad at all, of course. Its the accompanying symptoms that its developed and continues to move towards that are worrying. Over the past few weeks various sports have been beset with allegations of match-fixing & tanking of matches by a top 5 player, poisoning charges during a Davis Cup match, cocaine charges , spy scandals in motorsport, violence, institutionalized cheating, bribery, steroid use and we’re only just skimming the surface. When one starts getting into things which are considered “part and parcel” of modern sport – sledging, gamesmanship and the like – thats a whole different ball game.

Demonstrative of the problem is this. Etymologically, the word Amateur has its roots in love. But generally in sports now, anything amateurish is something lacking mastery of essentials – usually crude and with lots of blunders. Thats how far we have come from it all.

Professionalism is good. Amateurism is bad. So much that it almost gets depressing.

And then, when all seems lost, a couple of beacons shine through.

Sachin Tendulkar. 18 years after the age of 16 when he first appeared (and surely now its not about the money) is yet playing cricket that is prodigious and still takes your breath away. For the love of it he says.

Roger Federer – and the numbers don’t lie – had his worst year since 2003 and his best. Try and figure that out. But as the year ended, this much remained undisputed – as of now his only serious opponent is history. And when he’d won the Masters in Shanghai yesterday he said, he hoped his performance had helped people believe in the sport like he did.

Just two champions who do it their way. Amateurs !

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9 thoughts on “Does anybody remember laughter …

  1. excellent article SFX !!!

    makes us realize time and again that though there are and will be some playing game for other reasons but there will be champions who will gently remind us with their sheer talent and presence that game is still played and followed for simple reason. Love i.e.

    thanks for the gentle reminder!!

  2. Well Roger made more than USD 8 mio in the year.. SRT also has his sponsorships to think of.. All I am saying is that playing for the love of the game is not entirely without monetary considerations.. If you remember even our cricket team plays for the BCCI and not INDIA

  3. Salaam Rahul !

    Sure – and its not to say that money is the root of the evil either. As a matter of fact, (as I was reading in a Rohit Brijnath article recently, the first guy to fix it all was Nero – and money was not the reason). The point is that somewhere its becoming “okay” to compromise on a few values in competition in the professional circuit and I just wanted to highlight how there are some champions who reach the pinnacle without doing that.

    Cheers.

  4. thanks for wishes…

    may be i will be able to contribute little from my side amongst so many illustrious bloggers like you…

  5. Rahul…

    I think you’re stuck with a false dichotomy. They are professional sportsmen and must make money (how much is too much? who is anyone else to dictate that?)

    I think Sfx’s point was precisely that to become Tendulkar or Federer requires more than just a pedestrian every day desire to earn one’s bread.

    It takes a bit more – i think the comparison is between say Bill Joy or Bill Gates on the one hand, and youre average Joe Software on the other.

  6. Kartikeya,

    I think maybe sfx can clarify his point better, but I thought he was talking about a sportsman playing for money alone and willing to push the moral/ethical boundaries to achieve that dream. It wasn’t about the every day desire to earn one’s bread. Do you think Fernando Alonso/ Hamilton would disregard alleged spying by their employer for their annual contract? It was their desire to win the world championship which was at the root of the problem.
    It need not be that the names given by sfx can be given only because they are champions. I can think of Leander Paes who plays the game for his country and not for money. He may be termed as the anti thesis of a professional sportsman. He is more motivated playing for his country than when he is playing for money.. Especially if you look at his singles records..
    There have been enough insinuations about ST himself continuing to play for his sponsorships and money. I don’t subscribe to them, but I am just pointing out that ST’s self professed love for the game, might not be accepted by every one.
    Federer playing Pete Sampras in Asia – Love for the game given the scorelines and results anyone?

    But as i said, sfx can respond to this better. Quite futile to argue on my view of what he is trying to say as against yours.

    cheers

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