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 !