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. Better than OK.

    Glad that at least one idiot is banned here. What about the other two. Over there currently proving their ages are inverse to their IQs.

  2. Ah, Josephine Tey.

    Have all her books – Brat Farrar is my favorite, and I used Daughter of Time to teach Year 7 history.

  3. It was amazing, Ducky. And I missed it live! #*^!#! I finished work at Victoria Sq at 5pm and jumped in the bus for home. I had to go past Adelaide Oval to get home!

    I don’t know what I was thinking about – a lot of other office workers went to the ground -gates open. I probably didn’t think they’d last. I walked in home and they’re glued to the TV (B&W). I couldn’t believe it, and joined in the chorus cheering Lindsay and Slasher.

    With Wes’s last ball, I think he started his run-up near the picket fence. I heard afterwards that Slasher had resolved that unless it was a yorker on the stumps, he wouldn’t play it and would just get his bat and gloves out of the way. Which is what occurred. He copped one in the ribcage but didn’t flinch. Apparently his body was covered with black bruises at the end of the match. One very tough and gutsy cookie!

  4. I’ve been wondering why Abbott’s team have chosen now to undertake the mini-campaign and TV blitz. The timing feels all wrong. We’re still a long way from the election, and it’s obvious even one day in that he has nothing new to sell to us.

    So it’s a PR job and image makeover. The worrying thing for the Coalition, surely, is that Abbott is in such desperate need of a PR job and image makeover. And especially so when it needs to be so carefully stage-managed. He’s only going to talk about the fluff in his booklet, and he’s only going to do it to sycophants wearing the t-shirts. There’s no ‘reach’ in that approach.

    The only possible conclusion I can reach is that they’re panicking over there. They know Abbott has an image problem, but they’ve got nothing to draw on to fix it. There’s no existent aspect of Abbott that’s sell-able. If there was, they’d have identified and drawn on it by now. So they’ve taken to blatant lying – lying about his ‘sensitive’ side, lying about his strong convictions and leadership qualities, and lying about the existence of Coalition policies. And shutting off all avenues of scrutiny. They’ve dragged it all into as tight a ball as they can, sprayed it with glitter, and are just going to dangle it in front of us.

    The media seem to have given up on it already. They may be sympathetic to the Coalition in general, but they know a pile of excrement when they see one. And they’re not touching this. It stinks.

    I give the Coalition a week before the claws are out again.

  5. Paul Bongiorno @davidlen2 been on holidays in Ashby territory. No doubts the whole charade was infected by gross politics.

  6. Aguirre

    we’ve had a whole series of really desperate ploys from Abbott over the last few months – trotting out Margie and the girls, the over the top hyping of the AWU stuff, (something else before Xmas I can’t think of), Peta’s breathless revelations, the fireman stunts, etc.

    A few of these had the feeling of something that had been planned for closer to the election, but which had suddenly been brought forward.

    Quite a while ago, Andrew Elder did a piece on Peta Credlin. I commented at the time that, if you read her CV, it was that of a loser – CoS to three of the lowest rating Oppo Leaders in recent times – and Andrew agreed that, for both her and Loughnane, if they don’t get Abbott into the Lodge, their careers are toast.

    It seems that what we’re seeing at present has very little to do with getting the next Liberal government elected, but an awful lot to do with a last ditch attempt to hold on to the leadership.

    Obviously Credlin, Loughnane and Abbott feel the chop might come at any moment. It’s day to day guerilla warfare, and any considered strategy has gone out the window.

    It’s so precarious that they can’t afford even one poll to go to Labor, let alone for a downwards trend to continue.

    Everything points to Abbott hanging on to the leadership by the skin of his teeth – and that he, and his team, are well aware of this.

  7. Power out here in Kallangur. Stopped raining but still bluddy windy.
    Energex reckon power will be back on by 2.30 am.

    These people deserve medals along with the police, firies and council staff.

  8. Hi Guys!
    Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. It goes out to sea, does a loop, then comes back in again to land. Phew!
    Half the electrics in the house are gone because our Water Pump switch is outside with the pump, and every time we have heavy, driving rain it shorts the fuse which connects the water pump and all points along the back half of the house. So the only water we have coming out of the taps now is gravity fed due to the tanks being up the hill from the house! And it won’t rectify itself until the plug dries out and the Safety Switch allows electricity to flow again.

    The 3 Phase on the stove is OK, but I had to cook the rice for Dinner tonight in our Rice Cooker, on the floor of the lounge room, which is in the front half of the house. Oh boy!

    Still got a meal prepared, and we sat down to eat just in time for the Tennis to start. It’s a tradition. We watch the Men’s and Women’s Finals in their entirety. Together. With no distractions.

    Actually, going to the premise of fiona’s piece above, I guess you could say that the reason we enjoy the Tennis so much is because it appears to the naked eye to be just about the only major competitive sport that is untainted by drug-taking, and the commentary blissfully free of the expert commentators having to interrupt their observations with trite references to the odds relating to the match. There has been the annoying Tab ads, but as of yet no cosanguinous admixture between the two.

    Long may it stay that way. As nothing irritates me into turning off sport more than the making of it into a betting opportunity.

    Also, Performance Enhancing Drugs seem to be absent in this sport, for the most part anyway.

    I feel sorry for Andy Murray, not being able to play to your full potential due to something as essentially trivial as foot blisters must be maddening in the extreme. So much effort put into winning matches over the last two weeks, only to fall at the last hurdle.

    Oh well, at least it was a gallant defeat. 🙂

    Wrt Abbott. The Ridicule Meter is being put on him and they are starting to crank it up on the Commercial News Stations, as others have already commented.

    Channel 7 virtually did the Full Monty ‘Today Tonight’ treatment on him on the 6pm News tonight. They had an impudent reporter ask him about Cory Bernardi, and when Abbott determinedly refused to answer his questions the cameraman just kept the camera on him walking off into the distance like a caged gorilla. Extra focus on his horribly wrinkled white shirt and all.

    Plus they focused on the ridiculous vaudevillian pantomime that was his ‘Mini Campaign Launch’. Corflutes outside the hall for the Local Candidate and all!

    Absolutely stage-managed to the hilt. Not an ounce of spontaneity from go to whoa.

    I don’t know who it was that thought that a whole election year of Tony Abbott in your face would be a winner?

    Though, as Andrew Elder commented recently, Brian Loughnane is yet to win an election for the Conservatives. No matter how many different ways from Sunday The Australian wants to misconstrue Nate Silver’s thoughts about our federal election into ‘Liberals WILL Win!’

    Because, if there’s one thing Nate Silver has said time and time again, it’s that you can never predict an election result this far out from election day.

    Anyway, I go to sleep now with a hope and a prayer that the Commercial News Networks have had enough of Tony Abbott and his contrived campaign contortions. So far the signs are better than I had expected. 🙂

  9. zoomster,
    I don’t think Abbott will be dumped before the election. As you probably know, the Liberals like to knife their Leaders after an election loss. It’s the only Liberal tradition they appear to have held on to. 🙂

  10. Just talking to my sons and family in Bundaberg, Water is now in their homes. One of them has a high set home which is OK but water running through downstairs underneath, where his laundry and work shed is.
    The other one is also 2 story, but has water in the house downstairs. It is at just above ankle deep in both places.
    This would be the highest the flood waters have been since 1942 where the flood water had reached 8.59m. It is currently at8.35 expected to reach a height of 8.5m

  11. Goodnight C@t
    the rain is lovely but the wind is a b^&ch. We hve 160,000 homes without power in SEQ mostly from trees on power lines and poles on the ground

  12. hey Muskiemp,
    We had lovely rain prior tothe storm.Then it went a bit silly. 150mm in 8 hrs and it is heading your way. I hope you come out of it in good condition.

  13. o dear you poor things, i hope you are all

    ok this morningl.

    gosh and there is nothing i can do, to help.

    paddy an d muski
    ctomma and family what can i say. ——————————————————————————————————
    Ctomma it crossed my mind, perhaps other forces have spoken

    re abbott, perhaps there is some business people are not happy

    just a thought..

    may be in the future some would like to consider moving
    here floods are very rare, homes are not expesive ect
    and very hilly so flood in the city since about 1962
    except for small localized flooding nothing like any of you have.
    to have to put up with this flooding year in year out

    how can you plan for the future.

    i really feel very sad for you all
    and very quilty to that we dont endure these types of things.

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