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 – the French Military are ‘country people’ by and large.

    Mali is out of the way so I guess ruthless will be the thing.

    Expect the Rafale’s (not designed for Ground Attack but good at it) to blitz the place.

    The 30 something Muslim Saints?

    F#ck them.

  2. well i read from so many qlders yesterday the brisbane would not flood

    this time
    so what happened

    i also read that some said this was alll a normal event.

    for qld.

    i remember thinking at the time,, this is not over yet

    so what happened

    ive been working my garden all day blissfully thinking things had settled.

  3. denese

    Good question. What happened?

    From what I see today, it appears to be another serious flood emergency with people being rescued by Helicopters from their rooftops.

  4. I know J6p and others said they hadn’t had rain for several months, so that should soak up some of the water..but it doesn’t work like that…as a matter of fact THAT can make the situation worse when you have a sudden cloudburst and the top few centemetres of the soil is wet and forms a sort of film or skin that allows fast running water to flow freely across it.
    After the last drought here, we had a cloudburst of only 15mm..but it came down in a matter of minutes and ended flowing off the paddocks so quickly that it filled all three old underground tanks down by the front gate that hadn’t been filled for about thirty years!

  5. Dear ABC Classics,

    Yes, it’s his bicentennial year, but I don’t want wall-to-wall Verdi this afternoon. So, in self-defence, this is my listener’s choice from 1pm until whenever:

    Dvorak – Violin Concerto
    Klezma (A Jewish Odyssey)
    Allegri and Palestrina (Choir of King’s College/Willcocks)
    Enya – The Memory of Trees
    The Modern Jazz Quartet – The Last Concert
    and finishing up with some rousing Daddy Cool …

    So there.

  6. Someone said Abbott was supposed to be on the NSW Central Coast today mini campaigning, but he postponed that to rush to Queensland for a photo opportunity.

    As usual with Abbott he did nothing helpful He put on his fluoro vest (no-one else was wearing one) filled a couple of sandbags for the cameras and then drove off to somewhere nice and dry and indoors to look at people doing stuff.

    Not too far down this –

  7. TLBD,

    That would almost have been preferable to non-stop Verdi. Actually, if you were to amend your suggestion to Rite of Spring, Firebird, Petrushka, and Pulcinella, that would be splendid.

    But not, under any circumstances, Les Noces.

  8. Ciara,

    I fear you are right.

    I hope to be on my feet in early March, and free of rat poison by mid-April. I must be in Canberra in July for Bastille Day, though my parents would probably appreciate an earlier visit. Will keep in touch anyway – and of course if you are visiting Melbourne that’s another possibility.

  9. fiona,

    1 March, Ctar and I will be in London.

    He’ll wear a suit and be at the back and pass notes at his best.

    Stuff about Mike Clapp putting the Marines ashore will ensue (minus some 22 and 42’s).

    What he’ll do next, I don’t know (maybe nothing – I hope so).

  10. Ciara,

    Yes, I remembered that – hope the suit is back from the cleaners.

    I will be lecturing from late March to late April, so the earliest I’d be heading north will be May (actually, I must: parents’ 60th anniversary).

    At some stage the stars will be in alignment.

  11. Joe
    Even Crikey have rolled over and become impure.
    They are advertising a corporate bookmaker with free bets on their PB site.
    Might be an opening here at the PUB to commence commercial advertising of alcohol.
    What about the famous Carlton sign ‘I allus has wan at eleven’ just for me.

  12. Around 3 o’clock they had Newman on News radio and Birgit Nilsson (Aida) on Classic Fm. Easy choice.

  13. TLBD,

    I saw Birgit Nilsson singing Tosca in her farewell performance at the Wiener Staatsoper.

    It was a memorable occasion for many reasons, not least of which was queuing in the freezing January weather from 10am in order to get standing room in the parterre – best visuals in the house, and good audio ($1.50 was the going rate, as opposed to $1 standing room in the balcony).

    Miss Nilsson’s voice was still magnificent … but … her voluptuous maturity was not quite my idea of Tosca.

  14. fiona,

    I’m jealous. I’ll just have to make do with CDs and LPs.

    SBS showed a very good doco about her. I think they even covered her leaving her last performance so you may be on celluloid.

  15. So, I take it Abbott’s mini-campaign stunt was such a success that he’s abandoned in on Day 2 for a different stunt? I can understand how desperate Qld must have been for a photo of Abbott putting sand in a bag. All that’s required after that is some Lib lackey to have a go at Gillard, and Laming has helpfully stepped up. Nothing to do now but sit back and watch the votes roll in.

  16. was hoping to find some comments from qlders

    but over there you cannot go back a page,

    or is it just my computer

  17. Nice covert back-hander to Abbott from PMJG when asked today, as she toured the Bushfire areas of Gippsland, when she would be going to Queensland? Her reply? “I’ll go at the right time.”

    As dry as a Dry Martini. 😉

    Which I think I deserve myself for having spent half the day playing Wii games with the kids who’ve come down with a bad case of Cabin Fever. 😀

    I’m putting on some appropriate music too.

  18. Anyway, a big, hearty ‘Thank You!’ to the Weather Gods for laying it on thick in Queensland and depriving the Central Coast of Mr Abbott’s presence today. 😀

  19. BB, those newspaper stories from fifty years ago about the death of that young woman from a shark attack moved me to tears, as did the links on Australia Day back to stories about Tom Uren and Weary Dunlop when they returned from Changi to Oz. What a contrast with today’s media ‘reports’, too often a regurgitation of PR releases or re-hashing of third hand commentaries.

  20. Here it is – and a twist of lemon zest on the side ‘cos it’s healthy too – just don’t reveal my heresy to anyone 😉

  21. You know I think I’ve worked out Tony Abbott’s strategy. It’s not the ‘Small Target’ strategy of old, but a ‘Moving Target’ strategy.

    I think he is hoping that if he keeps up the Whirling Dervish moves until election day, he won’t be able to be pinned down on specifics and will get away with his pseudo-statesmanlike waffle. Such as we are seeing and hearing now in his booklet and in his advertisement on TV.

    Thereby hoping that Tony Abbott as a Pseud in a Suit, and a variety of costumes, plus his woolly rhetoric, and the spun yarns he is expert at weaving, will be enough to pull the wool over the electorate’s eyes until after polling day. When he will reveal his true agenda.

    It’s amazing when you think about it. How a politician, who wishes to lead a country for at least 3 years, can spend the preceding 3 years running around the country saying nothing very revealing at all, by way of the specifics of how he would run the place. Instead getting away with padding out the time to the election with constant, unconstructive carping at the government, pointless PR picfac stunts, ‘Headland’ speeches that say nothing specific but merely serve the purpose of making him, again, seem Statesmanlike, and conspiratorial plotting to bring down a hung parliament.

    Then, when the election is called, and the starter’s gun is fired, it all becomes a whirl of more of the same, with an extra serving of avoiding the specifics with the finish line in sight. Hoping that the wool stays over the eyes of the electorate long enough to blind them to the reality of what he is really going to be all about.

  22. i sorry but i had this vision of both sandbaging the brisbane river.

    my daughter tells me the unit she was in the one next to it has had its windows blown in.

    so i think they are glad they are home

  23. thanks ladies [ girls} it would be nice if we could actully sink back on some leather lounger in some old swank establishment
    and just have a natter and drink or two,.

    yes and it was mmmeeee who said come home the day before
    sort of had a feeling about it, i suppose my main fee is
    george and his leaking heart valve.

    and as the plane was canceled and they ended up on a plane from another company
    her oh was heard to say,, as men do,,,o yes ok ,,, we can leave the next day
    ,,, we need to go to day .. yelled she from across the room.

    so us girls seem to know best.
    how did abbott come to be there , was he flown in did he drive.
    take a bus or what,

    what made him decided to go,,,,, well not sure may be he was just across the boarder, as not familiar with the area he was doing his

    mini tour in the mini,

    but seriously, if you have arrangement to meet and greet people
    what happened to them where they told he was not coming,

    are they still waiting???

  24. Tony Abbott is a fair dinkum ghoul. Preying on other’s misfortune just so he can get his ugly mug on the television news shows today.

    He actually boasted about having “helped with the sandbagging”! He ‘helped’ fill all of two whole sandbags while the cameras were filming him. Then left to go to a Press Conference where he could boast about it and put on his ‘Concerned Face’.

    There’s only one person Tony Abbott wants to help. Tony Abbott.

  25. Just got off the phone to Joe who is well and in good spirits.

    He say there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

    Can Do Campbell Newman is on the job. He will see us right.

    Sends his love to all customers.

    Free beer tonight.

  26. denese,
    Abbott was supposed to be in my neck of the woods, the Central Coast of NSW, just north of Sydney, today. So he and Peta Credlin obviously decided to get him on a flight from Sydney to Brisbane last night, after his failed Mini Me John Howard Campaign Launch, and forget entirely about all the people he had lined up to be his stooges on the Central Coast today so as to attempt an immediate image repair by making it look like he cared about the suffering of the people flooded out in Queensland.

    That you could tell he doesn’t really care could be seen by the fact he didn’t get a hair on his increasingly bald head wet today. He certainly didn’t even go so far as Kevin Rudd did when he rolled up his trousers and waded out into the streets of Brisbane to see if anyone needed some real help.

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