Money rules

2013-11-01 00:00

THERE is an old saying that money is the root of all evil. In the past couple of decades, it has become all too obvious that it is also at the root of all sport.

There persists the curious and stubborn belief, however, that sport remains a noble aspect of the human condition, something that separates its participants from the rest of us ordinary mortals. On the contrary, it has become a commodity, marketed and sold like any other product.

The current furore over the forthcoming Indian cricket tour to South Africa is a good illustration. Instead of the 13-match programme sanctioned by the International Cricket Council (ICC), South Africa has had to accept five matches. Ostensibly, the reason is that the Indians dislike Haroon Lorgat, CEO of Cricket South Africa, who made some critical observations about Indian influence on the governance of world cricket when he was at the ICC. But this crisis is about wider issues concerning the exercise of power.

In financial terms, Indian cricket assets far exceed those of the other seven Test-cricket nations combined. It is wealth built on a form of cricket, Twenty20, which has more to do with pop concerts and the circus than serious sport. Repetitive, ugly slogging of negative bowling has been dressed up in enough razzmatazz to keep the turnstiles clicking and it threatens to undermine more subtle forms of the game, short and long, in numerous ways. One of them is a flourishing network of betting. It has been linked in several notorious cases to corrupt behaviour by players in league with spot-betting (often erroneously called match-fixing) syndicates.

South African cricket should be run by CSA in conjunction with the ICC. Instead, the Board of Control for Cricket in India is clearly in charge. International sporting relations should be bilateral affairs mediated by properly constituted and governed international bodies. But this administrative model is clearly just as out of date as the old-fashioned assumption that the South African National Defence Force runs Waterkloof military airbase: except when politically well-connected businesspeople from the sub-continent want to use it as part of their wedding arrangements.

Guptagate and a cricket series may seem poles apart, but they have a common root: South Africa’s growing habit of cringing to its partners in Brics. One of the more heartening moments in the shambles that represents the conduct of our foreign relations came in late 2011, when Desmond Tutu lambasted the government for its kowtowing servility to the Chinese when it obstructed the Dalai Lama’s application to visit South Africa to join the Arch on his 80th birthday. Tutu took the opportunity to remind the ANC that faith organisations, especially the churches, had played a major part in our national liberation. His explosive outburst on national radio predictably had little effect, but it was a major cathartic experience for his listeners.

China and India clearly have inordinate influence on our foreign and sports relations that make a major dent in our sovereignty. What might Russia and Brazil have in store for us?

Many South Africans seem not to care. Matters of principle are shoved aside as long as the money gods, currently resident in India in the case of cricket, are appeased. And perhaps it does not matter any longer.

A never-ending televised diet of largely forgettable short tours, accompanied by formulaic media coverage and blindingly banal comments by players, are turning Test cricket into the same circus as Twenty20. Everything is reduced to statistics. Commentators these days tell us little about the quality of batting or bowling.

It’s the sporting equivalent of the cynically materialist, quick gratification, short attention span culture that increasingly pervades both public and private life.

And this brings us back to foreign relations. Last week, President Jacob Zuma made some unfortunate remarks that could be interpreted as derogatory, implying that Malawi and some parts of South Africa (Pietermaritzburg, it so happened) are backward. Judging from the resultant laughter these views were shared. It is unlikely that they were deliberately chosen to offend, but they revealed a state of mind derived from a very junior status among the Brics nations and a deferential attitude to them.

South Africa is a member as a convenience to its partners as a well-developed and comforting jumping-off point into Africa; Malawi, for instance.

And while we may currently be number one in the ICC’s ranking of Test-cricket nations, we are just a junior partner of India when it comes to tour schedules.

• letters@witness.co.za

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