It’s all about cash, mostly

2013-07-06 00:00

INDIA, Sri Lanka and West Indies are currently knee-deep in a tri-nation ODI series in the Caribbean. If that came as a surprise to you, don’t worry. You won’t be the only one to not have a clue that it’s happening. Series like these always inspire the one-worded question: Why?

That’s easily answered with one word: Cash.

Cricket, like almost all other sports, has become a commodity. The more money that can be squeezed out of it, the better. Just ask England and New Zealand who recently forced two additional T20s into a tour schedule for those exact same reasons. Sport needs to make money, because it has become a business. If it fails to make money, that means the business has failed and in real life, when that happens, a business closes down.

Marketers and broadcasters try their hardest to sell meaning to the audience. Tugging on heartstrings is the easiest way to fox people into believing they’re part of something. It’s easy to make people believe that one contest is slightly more precious because the two teams have been at it for years.

Some sports have it easier than others. Tennis is easily sold as an individual’s brilliance, as is golf. Club soccer is about clinching the trophy at the end of the season or surviving the drop. Global tournaments have the glory of lifting the trophy at the end of play.

Cricket and rugby, though, lend themselves to something far more complicated. There are the age-old rivalries between some teams, but there’s also a whole lot of plonk. That goes for all formats of cricket. Test cricket, T20 cricket and one-day cricket all have a whole lot of teams play each other who don’t really “go way back”.

In fact, some teams don’t go back at all because they rarely play each other. Others play each other and never win and the only sort of rivalry they have is their time zones. There are a whole lot of games played that aren’t really going to inspire a group of people to take to the street in celebration if their team win — and that’s fine.

Some argue that the overkill of games diminishes the meaning even more, even those games that which have this apparent meaning through rivalry. When teams play each other so much, some might say that administrators are losing sight of this hidden “meaning”. But much of that meaning was manufactured in the first place and transcended decades. There is nothing wrong with buying into the concept of a deep-rooted rivalry, but it’s the modern world and sport at the top level is just a game. The kind of game that is there for entertainment.

So there’s a quarry of rather large philosophical proportions, much too abstruse for a simple cricket writer to decipher and assess.

That there is an issue with the way cricket is administered, there is no doubt. Power struggles, corruption, greedy administrators and a whole host of other factors all conspire to make cricket seem somewhat produced.

This all leads to a whole bunch of games played mainly to generate broadcasting revenue.

But there are equally as many games (of all formats) played between two teams who don’t really have much of a rivalry between them, leaving plenty of matches with little context.

It begs the question: does sport need context to have meaning?

It’s easy to get on a high horse and proclaim that some contests are more important than others. That some are more meaningful because the rivalries add context, global tournaments add context, and history of competitions add context. But what if none of those factors are present? Does sport really need some sort of intricate tapestry to be relevant or for it to matter?

Of course it has meaning. Sport always has meaning. Its meaning is to entertain, to enthral, to be mesmerising. Whether that comes from a marvellous unbeaten 174 in a match made-for-TV or from a nail-biting last-wicket stand on the final day of a Test between Australia and England doesn’t really matter.

Sport will always have meaning. If that meaning, in some cases, is simply to entertain those who are interested, then so what? It really shouldn’t matter too much that there are some games without any sort of so-called substantial context.

It’s a fine line to tread, accepting that sport serves as entertainment and some forms of entertainment aren’t for everyone’s taste. At the same time, one has to guard against simply accepting that sport is used for nothing more than making money, but there is equally nothing wrong with sport making money.

One cannot get too precious. There are issues far deeper than a few teams playing each other too much for monetary reasons, but that’s a column for another day.

*Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly about soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anyone else who will have her …

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