Spectator sports were once defined by the close-knit nature of teams, the tenacity of the competition and the exhilaration of the victory, and the essence of fair play—playing for the sake of playing, not winning. In the 21st century, however, the spectator sport sector has become one of the largest grossing businesses in the world, with almost every large firm, regardless of industry, involves in matters ranging from the ownership of sports teams or even entire leagues to the sponsorship of competitions. Sports has become a field where money can buy talent and where winning is everything because winning generates still more money. IT is tragic that the essence of team sport has been distorted by the buying and selling of athletes and that a modern-day sports team is nothing but a group of money-hungry individuals who have little in common except the compulsion to win—for more prize money.
The definition of competitive sports has been distorted by the injection of money into the system. Earlier, prize winnings were measly sums of money that barely supported players and were more a side benefit to the general satisfaction of being a sports person. Jesse Owens, the legendary American sprinter, ran barefoot at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany and despite winning an unprecedented number of gold medals maintained a down-to-earth lifestyle and personality that enhanced people’s respect for him. In stark contrast, athletes today, such as English footballer David Beckham, receive outrageous amount of money for doing little more than looking good on the filed. Endorsement contracts, club paycheck and benefits all add up to give them a yearly income that often exceeds $1000 million. Beckhman’s recently-singed contract with an obscure MLS (America) team called LA Galaxy netted him a paycheck of $50 million—from the club alone. These financial incentives often spoil players so much that their hunger to play well and win a good win, dies out. It has in Beckham’s case.
Modern-day sport is filled with such over-hyped yet mediocre sportsperson who have little motivation to do what they are paid for—play well. And understandably so. It is hardly a surprise that they can’t perform consider they are more celebrities and socialites than athletes and spend more time at parties than breaking a sweat on the field. In fact, they aren’t average human beings any more. Their apotheosis, however, is largely due to their wealth and their name, not their play.
Another adverse impact of the amount of money floating around in the sports world is that talent is given little more than monetary value. The genius of sportsperson is undermined; they are tagged merely as “worth $xx million” rather than a fabulous striker or a goalkeeper with golden hands. Half a century ago, legendary Brazilian footballer Pele, exploded onto the global football scene with outstanding performance in the 1958 and 1962 FIFA World Cups. Back then, his name carried an aura of virtuosity; nobody speculated on how much he was worth and nobody sought to buy him up before someone else could. Now, if a similarly talented young footballer emerges in Africa, European club football bigwigs snatch him up for a measly sum, train him and ‘enhance his monetary value’ before selling him to earn some cash. For example, the English football club Arsenal ‘bought’ French teenager Nikolas Anelka for a little over $500,000 (a massive sum a quarter century ago; now it is pocket money) and ‘sold’ him to Real Madrid after a couple of years fro over $25 million.
The branding of players, the ‘buying and selling’ players, and the poaching of talent are just a few of the terrible ramifications of the commercialisation of sports. But they are terrible indeed. The buying and selling of today’s most celebrated sportspersons and of the raw talent of children in developing countries is akin to the buying and selling of slaves. And in a world that claims to be free.
Team spirit is another thing that has been devoured by the hunger for money. Sportspersons today are little more than mercenaries: they play for the team that offers them the highest pay. This motive is in vivid contrast to only 25 years ago, when there was nothing odd about a player spending his entire career with one team, playing devotedly regardless of salary. Half a century ago, football clubs grew talented players from their teens and formed a formidable unit of dedicated players who shared a common thought: make our team the best. Today, many football clubs, like Manchester City, which don’t even bother with a local youth football system because their oil-merchant owner is ready to fork over any sum of money to assemble the best players form all over the world. Today’s club teams may seem daunting, but they aren’t essentially teams because they have no real team spirit; they are a rabble of individuals with egos as inflated as their bank balances. The selflessness of playing for a team, the brotherhood of team members, the common exhilaration that engulfed the entire team whenever any one player saw success—that is all gone. What is left is greed for money, selfish play to attract clubs who may pay more, and all-round snobbishness and arrogance. Is that what teens imagine when they dream of playing top-level football? Surely not!
The hauteur aside, the money in sports has also directly caused many political and legal scandals. This is simply because avarice for more prize money overwhelms owners more than it does players. The Indian Premier League, the pretentiously self-proclaimed ‘top cricket league in the world’ faced a major scandal earlier this year when one of he core administrators, Shashi Tharoor, was exposed as having been directly involved in determining the winners of matches. There are many similar such examples of public disgraces, the latest being two Pakistani cricketers who confessed to accepting bribes from bookies to bowl no-balls. A couple of years ago, Juventus, one of Italy’s top football clubs and the league winner, ignominiously made headlines for having bribed numerous referees over the course of the season. The club was demoted as punishment, but Italina football is still tainted with the vestiges of this despicable disease: many clubs are owned, directly or indirectly by the notorious mafia, who have no scruples about greasing a few palms to win.
The unprecedented rise in betting is yet another indicator that money has degraded the quality of sports. What was limited to putting a few bucks on the Sunday races at the Derby has now insinuated its way into almost every major sporting event in the worlds. The amounts at stake—thousands, even tens and hundreds of thousands—cause some crooked bookies to unfairly influence the outcome of games. Such corrupt practice is a worrying trend indeed.
All in all, it is obvious that there is far too much money in sport. Players have become rich, unmotivated snobs; clubs have become business franchises in talent purchase and sale; leagues have become international trade enterprises. Something needs to be done to curb the influence of money in sport because if things continue as they are, sport will well and truly lose its meaning. True fans and sportsperson will turn away in disgusts from capitalist enterprises that call themselves sports clubs and some of humanity’s prize qualities—team work, determination and selflessness—will be lost, maybe forever.