Down to earth

2008-09-19 00:00

WHAT a week this has been. The collapse of a major investment bank and the subsequent threat to asset values throughout the world has overshadowed all other news, and rightly so.

The great flood of easy money is over. The best we can hope for is that long years of dusty drought do not lie ahead. The chances are, however, that major lifestyle changes await many of the beneficiaries of easy money and that will probably include a good chunk of those athletes who have enjoyed two decades of inflated earnings.

I may be wrong, but consider how many of the world’s sporting events have been sponsored by those industries that are now under the threat of a prolonged recession.

On the PGA tour in the U.S., a majority of events are backed either by financial or car manufacturing companies. One such event is the Wachovia Championship, but not even the gentlemen who run that bank can say for certain that it will be in existence on Monday morning, let alone in 12 months’ time.

Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour, has long boasted that he has an alternate sponsor waiting in the wings for every week of the tour. He may be preoccupied with the Ryder Cup this week, but I suggest he keeps his cellphone close at hand in order to deal with sponsors anxious to reduce their commitments this coming year. Already he has a problem with disgruntled sponsors whose tournaments are not on the playing schedule of Tiger Woods.

No business is immune to a shortage of money. It is not possible that trillions worth of financial assets disappear in a puff of smoke without the fallout affecting every nook and cranny of global life. Take a look at last year’s sponsors of the English Premier League.

Northern Rock was everywhere emblazoned on team shirts and is now nowhere to be seen. AIG is famously the shirt sponsor of Manchester United, but for how much longer, even if the insurance giant survives the present crisis?

Television revenues for that league have ballooned into the stratosphere based on the value of advertising before, during and after the matches. Marketing people throughout the land will have spent much of this week responding to pressure from their bosses to reduce costs. If I am right, it will not be long before the people at Sky are knocking on the Football Association’s door to seek a revision of their broadcasting contract.

Not before long, the obscene salaries of footballers should start coming down to more realistic levels along with the absurd cost of tickets to watch a Premier League match. An era of tough money will not permit football clubs to get away with admission tickets costing £67.

Closer to home, the issue of ticket prices for Springbok matches might finally get some attention from Saru, whose original kneejerk reaction to this issue was to fire the best coach the national team has had.

Who knows, some good may come of it all apart from allowing families to attend live sport without mortgaging their homes? Hopefully a casualty will be the sums of money thrown at the T20 cricket leagues in India by the television moguls and sponsors who believe that their involvement in this truncated form of cricket is akin to unearthing a major oil field. One hopes that a good deal of Allan Sanford’s riches have declined to the point that he decides he does not wish to pursue his interest in T20 cricket.

I say this because the fallout from T20 cricket has begun. Surely Andrew Symonds’s spat with his Australian team-mates was provoked by the feeling of independence given him by his lucrative contract with the IPL? Why should he attend a team meeting in preference to a morning’s fishing when he can earn a footballer’s ransom for a few weeks’ easy cricket?

By the end of their England tour, our own T20 boys were looking like a bunch of weary bunnies.

None of them earned their keep in the disastrous one-day series against England. They had warned Cricket SA about the dangers of burnout, yet when presented with the prospect of a golden ring, they clambered aboard the T20 merry-go-round in preference to a period of rest and rehabilitation.

The result was the shambles of a 4-0 whitewash with an absent captain nursing a tennis elbow he picked up slogging boundaries in India.

What is more disturbing is that, in order to accommodate the schedules of the T20 beast, our forthcoming tour of Australia will embrace three back-to-back Test matches.

This is a disgraceful surrender by the ICC to the demands of its ugly bastard child.

Perhaps I am dreaming that this financial crisis will result in a short, sharp period of deflation and a return to sanity in respect of the demands of athletes. It is more likely that central banks, fearful of unemployment, will resort to printing money to replace the evaporated trillions. Such a prospect will be worse in the long run for most of us.

At least here in southern Africa we will have the benefit of a resident with a wealth of experience in managing runaway inflation. With a bit of luck, Robert Mugabe will soon have more than enough time on his hands to pass on his vast wisdom on such matters. Not all the news this week has been bad.

•Ray White is a former UCB president.

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