Sunday, May 27, 2007

Inside the sports industry

On the night of Saturday 16 December 2000 the crowd at the Sheffield Arena must have been stunned when Paul Ingle's corner forced him back to the centre of the ring to be savagely crushed by his opponent Mbulelo Botile of South Africa. Even one of the commentators remarked that the decision of Ingle's managers was shockingly unreasonable. Not unexpectedly, Ingle was carried unconscious to hospital with brain injuries. At the end of round 11 everybody, more especially Ingle's corner, knew he had lost the bout.

The question on the lips of many was why the towel was not thrown in. But how could they do that when they were playing according to the rules of today's international sports—the cash and fame first before the contender. In fact Ingle's corner callously hoped that their man could miraculously pull a knock-out.

Gone are the days when games were organised with a view to merely entertaining the audience. In our day the motive behind any activity sports included, is profit. If, in the process of any sporting activity people get entertained, it is an unintended outcome of a purely business-oriented venture. In reality sport is now a multi-billion dollar industry masquerading as an entertainment agency. It has become an industry dominated and controlled by corporate bodies.

Sporting activities are organised mainly by IOC, FIFA, CAF, JBF, WBC, etc. The funds with which these bodies organisc games are provided, in the main, by big business. Since business concerns will only spend money if they will make a profit, one can easilv understand why they provide the funds—they are financially interesting.

Advertising is an essential ingredient in all profit-oriented activity. Getting people to become aware of one's products is a vital competitive move. Corporate groups sponsor IOC and Co in exchange ttr the right to advertise their products on radio, TV jerseys, shinguards, gloves, and soon that is why you can never see World Socialist Movement or World Of Free Access or SPGB printed in bold characters and lined up around playing fields on stadiums. What you see is Coca Cola, Amstel, Visa, MasterCard, Western Union Money Transfer, Motorola, Ericsson, etc.
In the same vein other businesses deeply involved in the promotion of commercialised sports are the media houses. TV magnates are able to pay and have a stranglehold monopoly of coverage. They reap huge profits when they "sell" their "product" to other media groups.
Since today's sports is a matter of business due to its profit-oriented nature, it is always spiced with the not uncommon shady deals. Business is nothing but legalised stealing. Its main rule is "grab-as-much-as-you-can". International sports is therefore plagued with such inevitable phenomena as bribery, corruption, match-fixing, gambling, betting, pools, etc. In fact most many sports ministers, members of IOC, FIFA (the chief organisers of international sporting activities) siphon away huge sums of money in the process of organising games. A typical example can be seen in the famous Salt Lake City scandal which not only exposed but also shattered the credibility of the IOC and blew apart its five interlocking rings. Again, quite recenily some German sportswriters have alleged that the German government and some corporate groups bribed Thailand, South Korea and Saudi Arabia to vote for Germany to host the 2006 World Cup. The multinational corporations mentioned were Daimler Chrysler, Bayer, BASF and Siemens (Gambia Daily Observer 21 November 2000).

Wealth (goods and services) is created by labour. In the sports industry the creators of service (entertainment) are the sportsmen and women. These (most1y) youth are by no means different from workers in the factory; clerks in the bank; teachers in the classroom, etc. Sportsmen and women sell their labour power (i.e. their ability to run, jump, kick, swim, etc) to the owners of the means of production and distribution of the services produced. In sports the means of producing and distributing entertainment include the stadiums, the factories the assorted sporting gear, the media houses, etc. These are owned by corporate bodies, states, local councils and the like. The youth use these facilities to entertain society, who pay money that goes to the owners of these means. The sportsmen and women arc then paid wages by the owners (the employers).

It is a common business practice to fire workers who are considered to be not too productive. In the same way sportsmen and women who do not move mountains to prove, maintain and improve upon their competitiveness risk being booted out of employment. Even the language used by employers, especially owners of football clubs, clearly smacks of the business element in sports. Football clubs who hire the services of footballers are often heard talking of "buying", "selling", or "giving out on loan" such-and-such a player. Indeed one sometimes gets the impression that the players are not just wage-earners but real commodities! In one report by Reuters carried in the 6 November Daily Observer (Gambia), entitled "Pele attacks 'slave trade' in young players", the Brazilian Sports Minister decries the ahnost slave-like ownership of young footballers from Africa, Brazil and Argentina in particular. A very recent example is the case of Kanu Nwanko whose masters, Arsenal, refused to release him (from their bondage) to go to play for his "national" team during the just-ended Sydney Olympics.


Having been considered as "commodities" whose price is influenced by market forces, sportsmen and women are constantly engaged in fierce competition with each other. Competition is an unhealthy phenomenon but in sports it is even worse. The use of drugs to enhance performance is a direct result of the unwholesome profit-oriented practices. In the final analysis these people who use the drugs suffer and get disgraced when they test positive. By contrast the organisers and drug dealers, sitting behind their dark sunglasses at the VIP stands get away with their dirty profits.

But perhaps the most serious effect of this dubious U-turn in sports from entertainment-oriented to profit-oriented can be seen in the growing number of serious and in some cases fatal incidents involving sportsmen and women. The story of the British boxer Paul lngle has already been mentioned. No-one is unaware of the world-famous pugilist, Mohammed Ali. There is also the tragic fate of Michael Watson, another British boxer. A Colombian defender, Escohar, was gunned down in Bogota when he madvertently scored an own goal during the 1994 World Cup. He met this unfortunate death not because Colombia could not go ahead to win the cup but because, as it was generally believed, some big business people had lost huge sums which they staked in a betting game.

Sports and politics

Another interesting aspect of sports is that it is very much encouraged by governments especially in poor countries. The main reason for this support is the mind-numbing power of sports. A lot of money is spent to get people hooked to and addicted to sports. In fact sports plays the same role as religion, alcohol and the like. Commentators, sportswriters and the like are trained to be able to present the dullest of events or matches to appear to be the most interesting ones to listeners and readers. Sporting activities, as such, are organised constantly and at short intervals—from community through national to international levels. As people's interest in games soars so is their attention diverted from the mismanagement of social wealth that goes on in the corridors of power. In fact the revolutionary consciousness of people addicted to sports is usually completely blunted.

On this same political front, one notes the narrow-mindedness of so-called sports analysts when they opine that sports encourages togetherness and even has the magic of bringing peace to rival nations. This view dates back to the days of the "Cold War". These analysts considered the participation in international games by the "West" and the "East" as a positive step towards defusing tension in their world. But a deeper insight into the role of sports in the relations between nations or countries reveals the exact opposite of the claims of these sports experts. Modern capitalist sports is organised with a view to realising profit. Profit-making thrives best when people are kept divided. There is no way then that sports as it is organised today can bring peoples of the world together as one. In reality sports entrenches petty, myopic nationalism and chauvinism. Witness for instance the violence of the famous "English hooligans" during football matches in Europe. There are always running battIe in the streets of towns and cities all over the world during games especially football. Each country sees the other as an enemy. People competing under national flags only helps in keeping them disunited. But we need a single world without boundaries.

Yet sports, at all levels, can be made to achieve its original objective—to entertain both participants and spectators. This however can only materialize when it is freely organised by all persons interested in it—and not only by those who have money. But this possibility is itself dependent on the level of consciousness of humanity When the majority of people come to understand that a society that undertakes every venture with a view to making profit is bound to he plagued with shortcomings. "Money is the root of evil", as the saying goes. So it is only when the stadia and the factories producing sports-ware are commonly owned by all people, and when the present artificial boundaries dividing them and nations are dismantled that the present violence-prone, drug-infested activity called sport coupled with the slave status of most sportsmen and women can be eliminated. Then sports and games in general can play their unalloyed role of entertaining humankind free of charge.


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