Being constantly bombarded by the daily headlines screaming multi million dollar deals for buying out football clubs, exorbitant transfer fees for football players funded by petro dollars, and the ever rising prize money (which seems to be giving a fight to the rate of inflation in Zimbabwe) for various professional sporting events, one had started to question the very existence of sport being played for enjoyment. It was becoming just another entertainment industry like Hollywood, pop, porn or gambling. All one had to do was find a bunch of talented players across the globe, locate top coach, throw obscene money at them and make a winning team. Chelsea was a prime example, which didn’t live up to the standards that its owner set. Manchester City joined the club (pun intended) last week by signing Robinho. One is taking football only as an example to put one’s point across. This phenomenon is being replicated in many other sporting arenas as well (more in team sports one would add).
Formula One hasn’t been an exception in the recent past with the budgets of the top 2-3 teams putting a few emerging countries in the shadows. The ‘also rans’ were there to make the numbers, with little money to invest in technology or hire drivers with proven talent. The minnows had to get the engines from the Big Boyz and give chances to untested talent. Winning a Formula One race wasn’t within the realms of reality. Picking up the crumbs left for the 6+ places in a race was the best they could hope for.
There was an air of expectancy at Monza on the 14th of September 2008, when a laggard team’s driver was going to start at the pole position on the grid. The pole was attributed chiefly to the rains during the qualifying sessions and nobody really expected a rookie with an average car to hold on to the lead for too long. It was a flash in the pan, more like the lighting in the storm clouds that hit Monza on the Saturday qualifying sessions. Sebastian Vettel proved everyone wrong by a mile and more. Controlling the race from the beginning, the 21 year old drove a dream race, winning it comfortably in the end. It reaffirmed one’s faith in the uncertainties of sport where by every passing day; the odds on the favourites have been shortening. It encouraged the willingness to dream, the willingness to believe that impossible is nothing and that even in this Orwellian world of ‘some people being more equal’, fairy tales do happen. Sebastian Vettel and Toro Rosso have given every F1 lover a reason to cheer, a reason to smile.
But one doesn’t want to stop where most fairy tales end. What happened to David after he slayed Goliath? Did he become another Goliath? The philosophical problem here is that once David has slain Goliath, he doesn’t remain a David. He is not an underdog any more. In Vettel’s case, we may hear in a few days that he will be driving for a Ferrari or a McLaren. One tends to read these stories of small football clubs unearthing talent and then being forced to sell the talent to a bigger club because ‘the player wants to play the champions league’. One can’t argue against the individual player’s right to define his career goals and priorities. And the romantic idea of ‘sports for sports’ sake’ can’t and won’t stop the commercialisation of sport. Gravity pulls everything down and money is the gravity for today’s sports.
Maybe it’s still all about money!!!! But maybe we can return to being cynics tomorrow…