Lament of a sport fan

The nightmare becomes a reality. It was expected though.  Last week, FIFA officially expanded its marquee event, the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams.  More the merrier!

While last year, the ICC (International Cricket Council) contracted its World Cup format. Thus, essentially making it difficult for the Associate Members’ teams to be part of the tournament.

FIFA expanding, ICC contracting. Neither warranted. But that would be for another article.

It is bad times to be a fan of sport. Irrespective of which sport or sports one follows.  It is all about money, sponsorships, broadcast rights, and all about those with vested interest and agendas.

Welcome to the world of Sport. Or rather the world of Sport Cash-cow. It is all about business, you moronic sport fan.

Who cares about a sport fan. They will whinge, crib, throw few curses on social media and then get on with what is presented…oops with life.

Take a look at the world of sport. Take a look at the sporting bodies. Any sport. Any sport organizing body.  They all seem to be following a similar pattern.  Especially those sporting bodies who generate a lot of revenue through broadcasting rights, those who are able to attract a lot of sponsors.

Couple of years back, Ed Cumming wrote this in the Daily Telegraph*:

“Fifa and the IOC will never be properly managed, because fans don’t really care. If England win the Qatar World Cup, nobody will give two hoots whether the tournament was built on slave labour and bungs. Even the possibility of winning will be enough to sweep ethical concerns aside as the tournament draws near, while anything short will be treated, as usual, as a national catastrophe.”

But, wait a minute, does a sport fan have any say where FIFA World Cup or Olympics are held? Do they have a vote in the say?  No, absolutely not. It could take place on Venus or Mars, for all we care, if enough money could be thrown around.  

A sport fan does not have a say, does not have a voice.  I know about cricket stadiums with substandard facilities that are deemed fine for those ordinary fans. They’ll flock the stadium, they’ll cheer their team full of superstars. Nobody would give a damn about these ordinary folks: the struggle to reach the venue and then put up with substandard facilities.

And when they are in the stadium, the match could be delayed even in perfect weather conditions and with perfect knowledge of rain in the forecast.  Remember Florida 2016?Don’t bother to inform those in the stadium about the delay. The match starts after a 40 minute delay, the rain arrives as predicted in the forecast, match abandoned, no result. Two match series decided on the result of one match.  

Ah, and the reason of the delay? Unavoidable and technical problems suffered by the broadcasters. Never mind those live souls sitting and waiting patiently in the stadium.  

Everything is decided by how it fits the broadcasters. A match between India and Pakistan women’s cricket teams in 2016 World Cup T20 was hastily wrapped up and result decided in Pakistan women’s team favor. The reason for the rush? Another big match was about to start – the India versus Pakistan, this time the men’s teams facing each other in the group stages of the 2016 T20 World Cup. (Side note: That India and Pakistan have been playing each other regularly in the last few World Tournaments is not accidental – the draws are allegedly “fixed” – all for the benefit of the fans (and of course, all the additional revenue generated by hyping this already over-hyped rivalry.)

Then there are these issues of doping, cheating, match-fixing etc.  For example, the ongoing Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics doping scandal. The results tested in the labs in Russia. All mess. The doping test results from 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics are shedding new light (or dark light should we say?). Some athletes, who, we as sport fans cheered on the podium with the glittering medals around their necks, it seems were not clean. It is just not fair. Not to their fellow athletes and not to the  fans, both in the stadium and those millions watching on TV. They cheated and now we feel cheated. They robbed us and our genuine appreciation of their efforts now feel wasted.

Allow doping, allow cheating. Allow widespread use of TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions)*. Lenient punishments. Allowing athletes to return to their respective sports. What is the deterrent then? The athletes says this to themselves, “We will carry on like this, and reap the rewards. If we are caught, will pay some fine, serve the suspension and then we will be back. Simple.   

(*Here is the link to more on it: https://www.wada-ama.org/en/what-we-do/science-medical/therapeutic-use-exemptions)

What policies are in place to deal with these issues? That we are still dealing with 2008 doping test results make me believe something is seriously wrong here. But, nah, as sport fans we do not have the right to question it.  It is all about winning, it all about sponsors and broadcasters and it all about that important, “face” of the sport.

In short, who cares about ordinary sport fans? Sport fans do not care enough for all those who lost their lives in constructing those stadiums working in extreme heat, dangerous conditions and living in deplorable residential quarters. But who awarded the event to take place in that location in the first place?

Sport fans were not consulted on that. Repeating what I wrote earlier. Sport fans do not have a voice on the choice of location. (Of course, the bidding cities would show the support of its citizens, if that is attributed as voice of the sport fans).

Sport fans do not have a say which countries/cities would have the facilities to test the results of doping.  They do not have a say how these labs functions.

Sport fans do not decide on the format of the tournament including the number of participating teams. They do not decide on group draws, which could also be manipulated.

But yet, all this is done in the name of sport fans. Larger tournament, shorter tournament, traditional rivalries, more development and growth of the game to make it truly global.

And we all know to read between the lines. Or the hidden message behind such rhetorics.

Adding to our woes, we also live in the world of fake news. Deal with media that claims to be impartial but is more often than not biased, and somehow always-have-an-agenda. So while we are presented ‘facts’, it is not necessary we would the know the whole story behind those facts.

RIP Sport Fans.  Long live the World of Sport Business!

*http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/10713932/Damned-if-they-do-and-damned-if-they-dont-no-wonder-sports-associations-are-so-badly-run.html

First Anniversary: Day-Night Test Match:

Day night match
Picturesque

The excitement surrounding the second day-night Test match is missing this time. It is different to what it was last year. Last year the first ever day-night Test match between Australia and New Zealand for the Trans-Tasman trophy was highly anticipated.

The match got many monikers.

Pink ball match or as Jimmy Neesham coined it, instead of red-cherry, it is pink-pomegranate.

First day-night Test match.

Test match under the lights.

There was excitement surrounding this match. There was anxiety surrounding this match.

There was anticipation and hope for what it would do to bring back the dwindling crowd at Test matches to utter disgust to what it would do the most sacrosanct form of the game.

It was a battle between those who were all for embracing change to those who wanted to leave this form of the game untouched.

Traditionalist proclaimed, let us not tamper with the tradition of Test cricket.  I, for one, however, all for tradition, was of the opinion, how about starting a new tradition?  And that is what I believe, this Test match was. Still in its nascent stages, if this version is able to revive interest in the longer version of the game, why not continue with it. And of course, while fully acknowledging that this is still work in progress, keep fine tuning till a near perfect version is achieved.

Reminiscing on the match of last year, the buzz around it was infectious. While, it did have many doubters, there was more positive vibes surrounding the match. (Got to acknowledge the PR work!). And whether you were a supporter or an opposer, everybody still was looking forward to the match. To how the game would pan out. To how the players would approach it. How would it be for the batsmen, for the bowlers and even for the fielders? The pink-pomegranate, of course, was the most talked about both before and after the match.

Once the match began, with the buzz still surrounding the novelty of first ever day-night Test match, the focus shifted entirely towards the game. And rightly so. Because, first and foremost, it was about the game of cricket. Irrespective of whether it was under natural lights or artificial lights.

The match lasted only for three days.  It was a low scoring contest with the pink ball playing its part, especially in that twilight period where it ‘acted’ up. The second innings chase of 187 runs, a tricky total in cricketing terms did test Australian batters who finally managed to win it with three wickets.

Was all the hype surrounding the match warranted? Absolutely. It needed that noise, that-look-at-me-I-am-here, for sure. And definitely, everybody did take notice. Other cricketing boards having been trying to see how it could work out in their respective home conditions. And Pakistan and West Indies played the second day-night Test match in UAE.

Now around the first anniversary we have the second day-night Test match to be held at the same venue, Adelaide Oval, this time between Australia and South Africa.  Sadly, the buzz this time around is not so much around the day-night Test as much as where Australia finds itself in the game. With the series already lost, the battered and bruised Australian team is fighting for pride. On the other hand, South Africa are looking for a back-to-back whitewash, first 5-0 in limited overs at home and now 3-0 in Test matches away from home. Of course, South Africa also would want to prove a point after their captain Faf du Plessis was found guilty of ball tampering.

A controversy that could have been well avoided.

Coming back to the first anniversary of this day-night Test match here are some of my memories…

-Because of the time difference I had to stay up all night to watch the match. Slept on the couch for all the three days. And yes, I did doze off in between!

– Mitchell Santner. The Iceman. As I like to call him.  He’ll be the only cricketer to have made his debut in the inaugural day-night Test match. And what a debut it was!  He looked like a veteran playing in his first Test match. If there were nerves, if there were plenty of butterflies in the stomach, have to give to him, he is a good actor then! Because he didn’t show any.  It was all perfectly normal for him. He had to bat for his team, because his team needed those runs.  And as the cliché goes, more than the runs, it was the manner in which he scored them. Totally unfazed by everything surrounding him. In the low scoring match, he scored in both the innings, with the highest score (45) for NZ in the second innings.

-If one thing that took away from the match it was Nigel Llong’s decision as third umpire and his famous line, “it could have come from anything”. This was in reference to the mark that Hot Spot showed. Nathan Lyon was the batsman and even he had started his walk back to the pavilion when he saw that replay on the big screen. But like a man who is fighting for life in water, clings on to the only lifeline available till on the shores safely, Lyon hanged on this Llong lifeline and batted for 31. Australia were 116/8 and Lyon and Peter Neville partnership of 74 helped them get a slim lead. It definitely was the moment that changed the entire complexion of the match.

-The most disappointing thing about Llong’s decision was that he was using technology to arrive at the decision. And he still got it wrong.

-Some of the photos from this match were indeed very picturesque. So was the almost festival like mood surrounding the match, at least that I what I could sense watching the match on TV. It was a mood of hope, of hope for the future of Test cricket and of connecting with the younger audience.

Day night match 1
Picturesque 1

While Llong’s decision did take some shine away from the first day-night Test match, it still left some wonderful memories. Memories of the crowd thronging in to watch the match. Of the pink ball. Of Kane Williamson unable to spot the seam to Brendon McCullum wondering, seam, what seam? “I don’t even see seam on the red-cherry!” Of Mitchell Starc walking in with his plastered hand to score the winning runs. Of Mitchell Santner and his cool, calm, and collected demeanor.

Let us wait and watch what is in store for the second day-night Test at Adelaide Oval. Will there be the same festive mood that was there last year? Or has the home team’s performance dampen the mood of the public? Will Australia rise from the sweet reverse swing and give something for their fans to cheer ? Or will South Africa prevail to complete the sweet and cool minty white wash?

Cannot wait till for the umpire to say, let’s play gentlemen!