The Roar
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The corporatisation of sport is out of control

Roar Guru
12th December, 2016
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The drama surrounding Sepp Blatter and FIFA continues as Sepp loses his appeal. (Ennio Leanza/Keystone via AP)
Roar Guru
12th December, 2016
29

Ric Charlesworth is a man with plenty of experience inside and outside the sporting arena.

Olympics gold medallist coach in women’s hockey, Olympics silver medallist player in men’s hockey, Sheffield Shield opening batsman, High Performance Manager for New Zealand cricket, Performance Consultant for AFL Fremantle Dockers, doctor and politician.

Charlesworth said last weekend that the corporatisation of sport is one of the biggest threats to its integrity.

I am not a fan of the corporatisation of sport. While I appreciate the tenuous relationship between sport and big business is necessary to provide the fans with a quality product, it seems to me the golden era (say roughly early 1980s through to late noughties) when big business and sport fully complemented each other has passed.

Charlesworth, whose career has crossed so many high level achievements, is a person with the requisite authority to speak on the subject.

Charlesworth is concerned about the malign corporate influences that can compromise fair competition. “Gambling and drugs are big threats and when the ownership of sport goes to the corporate sector, that influences the fairness of competition”.

Sport had to maintain ownership if integrity were to be maintained. He said corporate sponsors and broadcasters should not be running sport. “The danger is that as business runs sport, it changes its essence and associations and thereby sullies the product”.

Competitions were being constantly re-invented by the media, with dubious results. Charlesworth gave the example of cricket captain Steve Smith being interviewed by commentators during a T20 international then getting out ‘in a mundane fashion’.

I agree with this. I am totally opposed to commentators talking to players at any stage during a sporting contest, be it cricket, the rugby codes, anything.

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When the game is “on”, the players should have no contact with the media at all, irrespective of the sport. The interviews can all be done once the game is concluded.

He speaks against the blurring of lines between players, officials and commentators. He mentioned Mark Waugh, a selector who also doubles as a TV expert commentator and gives opinions on on form and performance.

Charlesworth believes this is going down a dangerous path.

Look at the TV coverage of the NRL. It is constantly interrupted by betting odds. Gambling is now seen as a legitimate partner of sport and no-one blinks an eyelid.

Sure, betting goes hand in hand with horse racing, but we don’t need it thrust in our faces during other sports.

Already there have been several games invested by the NRL Integrity Committee for possible cheating.

Charlesworth goes on to say: “Sport works as a vehicle for broadcast because most (fans) still believe the contests are fail and real. Sport is a fresh contest and has real drama as long as this is believed.

“Too many scandals and too much interference and this quality will be diluted. Get too close and allow the sponsor or media mogul to make your choices and you may find this good name and goodwill dissipated”.

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When did the ARU ask my permission as a fan for the national rugby team to be referred to as the ‘Qantas’ Wallabies? Sure, Qantas may be a major sponsor of rugby union, but the national team jersey, at least in my eyes, is sacrosanct, and ought to be free of any advertising. But it gets flogged off, just like anything else.

It comes down to administrators lacking the will, and the integrity, to stand up against rampant commercialism.

But here’s the thing, does anyone care? Looking at the state of play around the traps, it appears the average sports fan couldn’t give a toss. As long as he or she is entertained, that seems to be all that matters.

Integrity is irrelevant as long as it doesn’t affect the fan personally, but determining at which point something becomes personal varies from one individual to another.

Does anyone still believe the fairytale that Sydney won the bid for the 2000 Olympics back in 1993 through the brilliance of its bidding team? No sir, Sydney won by default.

Beijing lost the bid because China was still tainted by the Tiananmen Square Uprising of 1989 during which hundreds or even thousands of protestors were killed.

If that bidding process had been held in 2013 for the 2020 Olympics and Tiananmen had occurred in 2009, then Beijing would have won the rights.

Why? Because in just 20 short years the sporting landscape has changed dramatically and big business has a much higher control in sport than ever before.

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Governments and financial markets love order and compliance. They are terrified of unrest or uncertainty. They want everyone to conform. It’s a simple formula.

While everyone is being conformist and compliant, those who want to control us and make money can do it so much easier. The same is happening in sport.

Almost all major clubs in all major competitors in all major sports, change their playing strip every year. It might only be a minor change, but a change it is.

Why? There must be a market for all those clubs to keep doing this. You don’t get much change out of $150 for a Wallaby jersey these days. Most other sporting shirts are in a similar price range.

Talk about throwing good money after bad. While there’s a market to keep flogging new outfits each year, then all those clubs will continue to change their outfits.

One of the most beautiful playing strips is the Harlequins rugby jersey. Traditionally, it comprises quarters of french grey, chocolate, cherry and sky blue with sleeves of emerald green and navy blue.

But the latest offering has totally butchered this beauty, offering what appears to be several variations of drab olive. This is repeated elsewhere ad nauseam.

Then there’s the awarding of the 2022 FIFA world cup to Qatar. The choice of Russia for the 2018 edition wasn’t much better.

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There’s perhaps two dozen FIFA committee delegates who voted for these two countries whose bank accounts have probably swelled beyond their wildest dreams. But apart from some initial huffing and puffing, no-one seems to care anymore.

What about the choice for the 2014 Winter Olympics – Sochi, which enjoys a subtropical climate and hardly ever has any snow? The mind boggles. Then we have systemised drug cheating from over 100 Russian athletes.

It all seems to come down to money and people seeking a potentially financial edge, either legally, or as it seems more often likely, illegally.

What if a leading coach and a player, perhaps a middle-of-the-road player, have the same agent?

How much pressure would there be on the coach to select a player continually from the same stable as himself? Why doesn’t any of the major sports have a public roster of agents and their clients?

I don’t know what the solution is but I don’t expect any good news. It seems everything is driven by money. Sometimes it’s for good reasons but often the reasons are self-serving for the few at the expense of the many.

There’s a popular futuristic series of films known as The Hunger Games, whereby the contestants have to kill each other in order to win. Maybe that’s the brutal distant future we’re heading towards. We just don’t know it yet!

There is perhaps much more I could say on the subject but I think Charlesworth has encapsulated his thoughts on the matter all too well.

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You may not want to believe me, but you can believe Charlesworth.