Money and Sport

Now the Olympics are over, we can admire what most of the athletes have achieved. Yes, they are professional, and they get paid to do it, nevertheless those there have shown genuine dedication. Whether professionalism is bad depends, I guess, on your point of view. The original games were also professional, and the Greeks designed them to ensure their soldiers were fit and skilled. In those times, throwing a javelin was not for fun. No need to let good ideas moulder away; I pinched that concept in my novel “Miranda’s Demons”, where an insurrection was taking place on Mars. The rebels took time out to hold games, with contests such as cross-country running, throwing and shooting in pressure suits. The objective here was to find the best way to carry out these activities when it became time to fight in the open.

In the earliest revitalized games the contests were for amateurs, but that was not quite as noble as some would have you think. It had one primary purpose: to reinforce the class structure of the time. To illustrate that point, consider the opprobrium deposited on Harold Larwood for his “bodyline” bowling against the Australian cricket team. Larwood came from the “working class” hence was designated a player; a gentleman would not do that. Of course that was quite wrong. His team captain was one of the “gentlemen” and he more or less ordered Larwood to bowl like that. Hypocrisy has always been strong in sport too.

Anyway, while such professional athletes do extremely well in the field, there raises a question about the nature of sport outside the actual events. One example was the vociferous attacks on Russian doping, which I mentioned earlier. This would have been more valid if the loudest voices were not supporting replacement athletes who could only get there if spaces were made available. The concept of conflict of interest is rather weak these days.

However, more publicized was the account of some American athletes who claimed to have been hijacked by Rio police, then as villains dressed as Rio police. Eventually, this was shown to be quite wrong and what had actually happened was that the group who had had far too much to drink had trashed a Rio business. (The details are still somewhat obscure as there have been different versions published.) Why would someone do that, then make up such a silly counter story? Much better would have been to come back, apologize, and offer restitution for the damage, in which case this would probably have blown over, but what actually happened was that the lies continued, in a sequence of watered down versions.

I should add that this sort of behaviour is not restricted to Americans. I know in New Zealand every now and again, a famous sportsman has far too much to drink and does something stupid, and hence hits the headlines, but usually there is at least some semblance of contrition when sobriety returns. The usual explanation is that when such young people are suddenly showered with money outside any of the wildest dreams of the ordinary members of their age group they simply cannot control themselves. It is almost as if some of them need minders on certain occasions.

Sometimes, however, it seems that others need minders, the others being organizers and officials. One of the best-known sporting teams in New Zealand is the All Blacks, the national rugby team, and who currently are world champions. (Yes, it helps that in most countries rugby is a minority sport.) The All Blacks spent all of last week in Sydney, preparing to play Australia on the Saturday. On the Friday (I think) they announced that they had found a bug in the room they used to hold team meetings. An initial response by the Australians was, they must be paranoid to be looking for bugs. Hold on a minute – they found a bug. You are not mad if you have suspicions that turn out to be true. This is particularly the case where there is a clear record of Australians having secretly video recorded team practices prior to games, and not only against New Zealand, as the South Africans caught them out once too. Why do they do these sort of things? Why is a game that important? The answer to that, of course, is money. Winners tend to get far better sponsorship deals.

So, the outcome of this debacle? Well, the All Blacks thrashed the Wallabies. There may be some poetic justice here because after the game was over the All Blacks announced that they actually found the bug on the Monday, but they left it there. I would like to think they managed to concoct up some totally erroneous plans to teach their opponents not to do that sort of thing.