The corporatisation of sport is out of control

sheek Roar Guru

By sheek, sheek is a Roar Guru

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    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.

    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”.

    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.

    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.

    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.

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

    A former rugby lock, cricket no.11 bat and no.10 bowler, and surfboat rower. A fan of the major team sports in Australia.

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    The Crowd Says (29)

    • December 13th 2016 @ 6:50am
      Bexdog said | December 13th 2016 @ 6:50am | ! Report

      Good article. On the topic of fans not caring about the corporates taking over. Fans do care but the only thing they can do to make change is to switch off. Very few do, no matter how much Joel freaking cane they throw in our faces. Until we switch off nothing changes.

    • Roar Guru

      December 13th 2016 @ 8:28am
      sheek said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:28am | ! Report

      Thanks Bexdog,

      We’re off the mark!

      Fans have the power of collective action but I guess apathy just gets in the way.

    • December 13th 2016 @ 9:44am
      Onside said | December 13th 2016 @ 9:44am | ! Report

      The topic Sheek is so complex it is worthy of a PHD .

      Rapacious commercialism corrupts sport to the extent winning is more important than the contest. My brand is better than your brand. So much so that these days actual teams are brands. And then ,in turn ,one brand, say The Wallabies, is supported by another brand , say Air New Zealand (Sorry Sheek , you do the jokes).

      Two examples out of MANY that stick in my craw

      1.The Australian Test team wanted a leg spinner for an upcoming Ashes series against England. Fawad Ahmed Khan was recruited from Pakistan and had his Australian citizenship fast tracked under a ‘dodgy’ refugee status so he could play for Australia. Khan, a devout Muslim,was then granted exception from wearing the Vic Bitter logo ( Vic Bitter were bitter; sorry Sheek ) because alcohol is an Islamic no go zone.

      What’s my point : Australia and its sponsors wanted the Test team to look better than what it really was to the extent corporatisation took precedence over the actual game of Test cricket . For purely commercial purposes, Win = Good, Lose = Bad ( England’s sponsors brand has the illusion of superiority).

      2.Sydney Olympics 2000. Australia scouted the globe for athletes willing to swap passports in order to create the illusion the nation was better at sport than is actually the case. I cannot recall any names, but recall a couple of pole vaulters from Russia, was it ?, and a clutch of weightlifters from perhaps Bulgaria who competed , and are now back in Bulgarialand.

      The examples of passport swapping mercenary athletes taking up citizenship with the highest bidder in all sports is endless. And sure there are examples of some making wonderful contributions , Toppo Rodriguez , springs to mind.

      Its OK where a long term contribution to the improvement of a sport is concerned , but changing countries for a sponsors money , undermines the essence of sport.

      I think the funniest thing in this overt corporatism caper, occurs in the Big Bash or T/20 competition , sponsored by KFC, where kids are encouraged to wear KFC buckets on their head. However it is impossible to buy KFC at the ground. There is just thousands of empty cardboard buckets. Dont tell them the F in KFC stands for FRIED ! .(Where is Billy Connolly when we need him.)

      And Sheek ,regarding those Russian Dolls in the Sochi Winter Olympics, well they were full of themselves.


      • Roar Guru

        December 13th 2016 @ 12:32pm
        sheek said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:32pm | ! Report


        You make a couple of very good points & well argued.

        When Topo Rodriguez emigrated to Australia in 1984, it was to provide his family with a better future.

        Argentina was in the grip of a military junta & Top had liked what he saw of Australia when he toured with the Pumas the previous year.

        He wasn’t expecting to prolong his test career, but Cam Lillicrap was still very young (21), Tony D’Arcy had defected to league, John Meadows had retired & John Coolican wasn’t considered genuine test quality.

        Topo, a tight-head for the Pumas, was co-opted by Alan Jones into the loose-head position & off on a tour to Fiji barely 3 months after arriving in Australia. Or it might have been barely a month, I can’t remember!

        This was okay because Topo hadn’t originally come to play test rugby. It just happened that way.

        In 1977, Kepler Wessels was an ambitious & highly talented 21 year old South African. With his native country isolated from international cricket for perhaps his lifetime, he was considering his options.

        When WSC happened, he threw in his lot with the Aussies. Post-WSC, Wessels satisfied a four year domicile requirement before qualifying for Australia. He did the hard yards & he deserved his Baggy Green.

        He would have remained an Aussie but there was an acrimonious fallout with the ACB who accused him of providing contact between rebel Aussie cricketers & the SACU (I would not have thought this to be a crime in itself).

        Anyway, shunned by his adoptive country, or at least the ACB who would not renew his contract, he returned to South Africa where remarkably he found himself captain of their reunification team.

        So those two examples are okay (Rodriguez & Wessels) in my view.

        • December 13th 2016 @ 1:46pm
          BrainsTrust said | December 13th 2016 @ 1:46pm | ! Report

          Wessels was coming to play WSC, it was just a matter Packer wanted to see him play locally before hiring him, Wessels ended up playing for Australia at the WSC I would assume because Packer didn’t have enough for a South African team or other teams and too many for the World team. Then he hung around, the pay for Sheffield sheild was so poor in those days you would have to be crazy to play in AUstralia. Wessels just hung around in his own choice.
          In England you have the county system where the money in the county system is what gets England so many of other nations cricketers not by design though.
          There is no way Topo came to Australia just by chance, rugby might have been amateur but no doubt there was some sort of deal worked out to get Topo over with a well paid job of some sort from a sponsor. The only question is whether it was due to Warringah or it was being also done to get him in the Australian team. For Topo to then be abandoned was a disgrace given his scrummaging expertise he should have been the scrummaging coach. the same happened to Ian Williams a well paid job in Japan for a corporate team and he ended up playing for them. This is the case though of sponsors or corporates wanted their team to win rather than promotion
          WWF has the advantage it can bring any twist into its sport, Pepsi no doubt had basketballer Shaquile ONeal get involved in Wrestling as a cross promotion. Its very tricky or impossible for a real sport to try that sort of thing though.
          The closest I can think of is AFL with Folau as a marketing gimmick. They couldn’t exactly ship in Folau to make a one off AFL match where he would be the star like WWF did with Shaq. Three years later and they ended up making themselves look like gooses.

          • Roar Guru

            December 13th 2016 @ 3:57pm
            sheek said | December 13th 2016 @ 3:57pm | ! Report


            I’ve met Topo many times & can say humbly we became friendly.

            He had decided to settle in Sydney & wrote to every Shute Shield club, but only three replied – Warringah, Easts & one other whose name escapes me. He had no idea or preference as to which club or suburb was preferable.

            Warringah was the only club to provide him with accommodation, a car & a job to get him started. That’s why he ended up with Warringah.

            Nothing formal was arranged by the ARU or NSWRU, just Topo & Warringah. Alan Jones was smart enough to realise the difference too could make to the Wallabies & sounded him out. The rest is history.

            Ironically, if either Bob Dwyer or Bob Templeton had been Wallaby coach, they might have ignored him.

            Topo had a massive falling out with O’Neill when he ran the gym at ANZ Bank, where O’Neill was CEO. I think it was ANZ.

            That’s pretty much why O’Neill never offered Topo any role with the ARU. This is a tragedy because his knowledge of the scrum is just about unparalleled in my humble opinion. Australian rugby was the lost for not having Topo as a scrum coach in the 1990s & 2000s.

    • Roar Guru

      December 13th 2016 @ 10:49am
      Paul Dawson said | December 13th 2016 @ 10:49am | ! Report

      I’ll be honest, I don’t really care for articles like this. “determining at which point something becomes personal varies from one individual to another” – it sure does.

      There are legitimate points raised, particularly with regard to gambling and the massive corruption at the highest levels of FIFA but otherwise I read this as a grab-bag of “things I don’t like about modern sport” – and as a result find it pretty easy to disregard.

      Ultimately the powers-that-be have to get the balance right between contest & context – fans have shown that they will vote with their feet and wallets if the product is cheapened.

      • Roar Guru

        December 13th 2016 @ 12:32pm
        sheek said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

        Paul D – that’s your right to disagree. Goodbye!

    • December 13th 2016 @ 11:27am
      Perry Bridge said | December 13th 2016 @ 11:27am | ! Report

      The level of care/concern around this will in some cases vary from sport to sport.

      The AFL as an example is ironic – many outside regard the AFL as a corporatized giant – however, that was for some time in comparison to the NRL which was owned by corporations (Telstra/News Corp).

      EPL clubs have been privately owned since the late 1800s but perhaps at that time they didn’t envisage a model encompassing Russian oligarchs and US billionaires and Saudi sheiks.

      I look at EPL and NRL jerseys and I don’t know which teams are playing – unless I know the associations of major sponsors. I used to have a soft spot for Liverpool because they were ‘Carlsberg’ to me. They’d play against ‘Sharp’ and other teams. I do at least note in the AFL that the advertiser logos are actually quite discrete by comparison – a small chest badge and a banner on the back but below the oversized number.

      Back in the AFL world – my club North Melbourne is the only one without pokies revenue and they turned a profit again last year. Is that a great thing? A moral high horse position perhaps – as perhaps pokies revenue should only go to grass roots clubs…..and the super wealthy individuals who own many licences. Why not an AFL club? after all the NRL clubs built their finances on Leagues clubs for decades.

      Point is – certain aspects that might be seen as ‘selling out’ have happened in some codes and not in others. Some things are long ingrained culture that – for example private ownership – were that to kick in across the board in the AFL would be a shock to the system of many as voting members become nothing but subscription customers.

      • Roar Guru

        December 13th 2016 @ 12:34pm
        sheek said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

        Thanks Perry.

    • Roar Guru

      December 13th 2016 @ 11:43am
      Mister Football said | December 13th 2016 @ 11:43am | ! Report

      Nostalgia affects us all, in one guise or another, across the board of our human existence.

      I can recall back in 1982, as a teenager it has to be said, reacting quite negatively to the news that South Melbourne was moving to Sydney.

      Similarly, spare a thought for the Fitzroy fans who had to watch their club merge with the Bears exactly 20 years ago. If only there had been more of them in the first place.

      On the plus side, you have to actually go all the way back to 1915 to witness a club drop out of the competition altogether, never to return.

      I have great nostalgia for the Footscray of the 1970s and 1980s, playing home games at the Western Oval, in pretty horrible conditions it has to be said.

      Give me the modern incarnation of the bulldogs any day, playing under a roof, being able to sit down, throw in a belated premiership for good measure.

      You can forgive a lot when your team is winning.

      • Roar Guru

        December 13th 2016 @ 12:46pm
        sheek said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

        Mister Football,

        I fundamentally disagree with the premise we must accept change.

        Change is usually contrived for someone’s benefit, like a major corporation, not for the benefit of the general public.

        Of course, there are exceptions. The satellite, internet, mobile phones, computers, google, windows, wikipedia, these have all fundamentally changed our lives. And many would say for the better.

        But the benefits are generally wrapped up & presented to appear as if they’re in our interests.

        I don’t mind change that is positive & an improvement, like better stadiums. Yes, I can accept that.

        But I certainly don’t like for example, sponsors stamping their logos on anything & everything to the extent you struggle to determine what the original club colours were.

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