The Commodification of Sport (Or, How to Lose Your Integrity: Part 1)

The Commodification of Sport (How to Lose Your Integrity: Part 1)
cricket ball

Once upon a time, I was a cricket fan. My introduction to the sport, as for so many people born in the 1950s, was through the suave tones on the radio of such commentators as Alan McGilvray, Lindsay Hassett, John Arlott, Tony Cozier … This early interest impressed my parents so much that I was taken – at the age of five – to watch the one-day match between the Southern Highlands and the inimitable West Indies in the summer of 1960-1961 at Manuka Oval. (I lasted until the luncheon break. Then my mother took me home, leaving my father to watch the rest of the match in peace.)

Cricket continued as a background to my life during the 1960s and 1970s – an exciting yet reassuringly predictable part of summer. Then came Packer’s Circus, and the move from cricket’s status as an essentially amateur but – where professional – lowly-paid sport to one where the top players suddenly received substantial rewards. With that change came, to my eyes at any rate, a change as well to the nature of the game: the gradual disappearance of “sporting” behaviour, the longevity of the top players (because of the money – after all, what other career options do most of them have after 15 plus years in the game?) to the detriment of youngsters wanting to have a go at representing their countries at the highest level – in short, the commodification of the game for the benefit of promoters and media proprietors. During the 1980s and 1990s I rapidly lost interest, and though I could generally tell you the results of a series, I rarely listened or watched any more.

Then, in the late 1990s, Adam Gilchrist erupted onto the scene. My interest in cricket was revived – not merely because he was a very good keeper (not the greatest, but still pretty damn’ fine) and an enchanting batsman, but because of the spirit in which he played the game. He walked – even when the umpire had given him not out – if he believed that he was truly out.

After delivering the 2009 Cowdery Lecture– which even cricket traditionalists may find interesting – Gilchrist, in conversation with Mark Nicholas, was asked about the time when he “walked” in the 2003 World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka, even though the umpire had ruled in his favour. This is my transcript of Gilchrist’s explanation, which I first heard on 28 June 2009. To me this illustrates his personal integrity, which why I admire him as a cricketer, and more importantly, as a person (any errors in the transcript are my responsibility):

It’s something that I guess was ingrained early in my life. I spoke right at the start about my parents and the values and qualities that they instil in you as a person. I guess that’s what defines you and carries you through your journey of life, and for me it’s been a cricketing journey. Probably two significant moments in my career that I hadn’t really thought about until around, funnily enough, the semi-final in the World Cup in 2003 after the well-documented walking incident in that match. That was the catalyst for me to start thinking and thinking why have I got this approach.

When I was 17 I came over – had the great fortune of coming over here and playing for the Richmond Cricket Club on a scholarship. And in a match during that year when I was playing here I got a nick on one and just walked and got into the rooms and everyone said “Oh, the umpire wasn’t going to give you out. What did you come off for?” I wrote a letter to Mum and Dad and I said I was really disappointed, I shouldn’t have walked, I might have got to the 100 and so on. But my last line was, “Oh well, but at least I did the right thing.”

A couple of years later I was playing for the New South Wales 2nd Eleven in a trial match against the ACT. Got a big nick on one, got given not out and I didn’t walk, and I went on to get 100. But I tell you I felt lousy for the rest of the innings. And I went to the bowler, who was an ageing bowler about to retire from the game and I went to him and I said, “Mate, I’m so sorry about that, and I feel terrible.” And he said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. Look, I’m nearly finished, you’re on the rise, this game means much more to you than what it does to me.” And that line just sort of struck a nerve in me, sort of “At what cost does it mean that?”

And I think they are probably the defining moments that led me to play that way. But it’s never been a crusade. The greatest thing that I’ve found awkward about this whole discussion is that I feel that some people look upon people that don’t walk as being dishonest or unsporting. I very much don’t feel that way – I can accept that it’s part of the game. It’s here to stay, this issue, and do you or don’t you – it’s an individual choice.”

(my emphasis)

Gilchrist retired in 2008, and Ricky Ponting’s tenure as captain went on and on and on and on … For the last couple of years, I’ve mostly neither known nor cared when, where, or whom Australia is playing.

My lack of interest has been compounded by the promotion of betting on every possible aspect of the game. Obviously this is most observable on the commercial channels, but despite protests from many listeners even the ABC’s radio coverage has been contaminated.

Of course, cricket is not the only sport where betting has now been normalised: it occurs in all the football codes and – guess what? – one of the consequences is that match-fixing is now rife and has been described as a “disease that could kill football”.

Is it any wonder that the get-rich-quick-at-any-cost attitude that seems to be so pervasive nowadays spawns greedy fools like Lance Armstrong, who not only take risks with their long-term physiological and psychological health but also compromise their own moral compass, perhaps permanently? Not to mention corrupting their chosen sport …

Sport has become yet another victim of late-stage (terminal?) capitalism: commodify it, add a healthy lashing of “wagering”, let the white-collar and underbelly criminals rip, and as for the competitors and their adoring publics – well, they know what they can do with themselves.

Meanwhile, as crime writer John D. MacDonald wrote:

Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn’t blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won’t cheat, then you know he never will.

Integrity? The commodifiers of all things wouldn’t recognise integrity if it bit them on the bum.


816 thoughts on “The Commodification of Sport (Or, How to Lose Your Integrity: Part 1)

  1. fiona – Who would think that Yenda would have a Wiki entry!

    It’s a pub and service station place.

    No one stops.

  2. Ms Chiara,

    One can find the most surprising things in Wiki (and even more surprising things, events, places, and – especially – people on the www …).

  3. fiona – It’s said with a ‘H’ (Italian style) but not spelt that way.

    Time for me to get back to work – the French Army and the Raffaele’s are closing on Timbuktu. They, unlike the Americans who shoot people at random, will systematically shoot everyone or thing.

    Tomorrow I’ll collect my mother and him from KSA.

  4. Ciara,

    My apologies – it was a slip of the brain!

    Bonne chance (on both counts), et vive les pommes frites.

  5. That photo of Alexandra Headland looks a might apocalyptic. All we need next are the plagues of locusts. Then we can really go to town about this being God’s message to Queenslanders as an assessment of the Newman Government. 🙂

  6. Bushfire Bill,
    The Coalition, but mainly the Liberal Party, are attempting to become the Reality TV version of a political party. I think it’s all a bit late for that now because, in the very Post Modern sense, the electorate have seen that show one too many times now and are hip to the jive. They have moved on to favouring shows which pull apart the Emperor’s Clothes and show us the joins and the stitch-ups therein.

    My god this country is crying out for an equivalent to America’s ‘Saturday Night Live’, ‘The Stephen Colbert Show’, and, of course, ‘The Jon Stewart Show’, so as to expose with the best satirical wit Australia can muster, just how threadbare Lycra Man’s clothes are.

    Instead, Liberal operative Mark Scott tries to cancel the one small reed through which we breathe comedic political criticism in this country now, the 5 minutes per week (!), of John Clarke and Bryan Dawe.

    It’s so pathetic as to be scandalous. Though where, other than via the 5th Estate, do we, the people, get to have a say in these matters any more?
    Who reads or takes notice of comments on the bottom of ‘The Drum’ articles, or, in fact, any avenue of public input that are out there these days? There’s just so many of them that they have become a sea of babble with just rips in the waters of opinion trying to pull us this way and that.

    Sometimes I despair. Like after that deplorable article by Michelle Grattan the other day. It was virtually a Post Modern political satire piece itself. Yet we are supposed to take this ‘doyenne of the Press Gallery’ seriously.

    What I do despair about is why there is not more general clamour, as it is the situation for every other workplace and applies to everyone else in our society now, for journalists to be moved on when they are so obviously past their ‘Use By Date’, and they have become a parody and a shadow of their former journalistic selves? Because it’s these Lifers that the Coalition are pandering to in order to get their putrid pablum out to the public via these compliant and complicit mouthpieces for some sort of perceived status quo, where all is Right with the political world and Michelle is in her place, in PM Abbott’s office on her drip.

  7. C@tmomma:

    My god this country is crying out for an equivalent to America’s ‘Saturday Night Live’, ‘The Stephen Colbert Show’, and, of course, ‘The Jon Stewart Show’, so as to expose with the best satirical wit Australia can muster, just how threadbare Lycra Man’s clothes are.

    Ironically, the nearest equivalent we have is The Project. Fairly tame by Daily Show standards, but nothing to do with station ownership, of course.

  8. TLBD
    Thanks for the link to Nova on NITV. Every time I check out their programming it seems to just be the same as all the SBS sites.

    Bushfire Bill
    Whew, now that is what I call fantastic. Amazing with all the info you gave the bit that sticks in my pea brain is the bit about the sharks on the golf course. 🙂

  9. All will be well with the floods now. Abbott has suspended the mini campaign and has gone to help out with the emergency.
    I just saw footage of him filling sandbags with volunteers.
    He was the ONLY one wearing a “look at moi!” fluoro vest!
    What a bloody joke the man is!

  10. You can really see the difference between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party in their response to the latest Queensland flood situation.

    The Labor Party encouraged the ‘Help a Mate’ ethos of volunteering.

    The Liberal Party demand people come out and volunteer to clean up so they can save money.

  11. Delusional or mendacious?

    The NSW Liberal Premier, Barry O’Farrell, said the depiction of Mr Abbott as all negativity was wrong.

    “Media … will more often run a criticism from a federal opposition leader, and a state opposition leader, that (sic) they’ll run a positive story,” he told Sky News.

  12. Victoria,

    One has to wonder to what extent the release of water from the Wivenhoe Dam (against the operator’s advice) may have contributed.

    Do Slater & Gordon have a Brisbane office?

  13. Fiona, they have many offices here. I hope no-one suffers damage from the releasing of the dam water but, if they if they do I recommend suing the backside off Newman as he went against the advice of SEQwater.

  14. MsAdventure,

    Well, we all know that experts are former drips under pressure …

    Love that video. I’ve been playing about trying to embed it without luck, but opening a link is easy enough.

    Many thanks!


  15. Newman was on the news last night emphasising that the water heading for Brisbane was flowing in from below the dam, not from any release and nothing anyone could do would have stopped it. The words ‘arse’ and ‘covering’ come to mind.

  16. Leone,

    Mr Newman seems to have more arse than class, so he has a fair bit of covering to do.


    You’re nearly there …

  17. fiona


    Will the Frech military in Mali be the new likeable version they were in Côte d’Ivoire?

    Or will they decide that no one cares anyway?

    (I need to decide and put something up on Notre Europe.)

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