Their Business is Our Business

Clarke 2

I wrote this piece at the beginning of last week, and I’m going to put it up without amending it from then. I hope it still works.

Admin Matters – Their Business Is OUR Business

It’s one of Giles Clarke’s bon mots. That “no-one should be interested in sports administration”. I know many supporters of sport feel the same way. “Can they just get out of the way and let the sport play out” they say. “It’s not worth worrying about bad administration. What is there we can do?”

This could go the way of one of my usual diatribes about how sport isn’t what it used to be, how business has corrupted the sporting ethos, how money is much more important than the sport itself. And I probably could bore you senseless as I go over all that again.

I stopped going to Millwall at the end of the 2012 season. Why? We were a lower-middle Championship side then, probably punching a little over our weight, and yet I felt I didn’t really associate myself with the team being put out there. We’d survived the drop due in no small part to a useful old player called Harry Kane. But he wasn’t our player, of course. We’d loaned him in. As we did with Ryan Mason. With Benik Afobe. We were getting more and more loan players in. They style of football was boring, all about surivival and defensive resistance. This was because a drop into League One was seen as a footballing disaster. It wasn’t like that in the recent past. We survived and thrived in that league below by bringing on youngsters, or snapping up wily old pros and lower league talent to prosper. That’s not the way now. It’s all about borrowing other team’s players.

But I’m digressing. Sport is about loving what is out there. It’s about enjoying the moments you are at a venue, or watching on television. One such moment occurred this weekend. Oklahoma City Thunder were at home to Golden State Warriors in a regular season game. The game ebbed and flowed, the Thunder not quite sealing the win, and the Warriors keeping it close. The game went into overtime, and with 20 odd seconds, the game was tied. Then this happened….

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkaqIujpcbw

The Warriors are not my team. But it is watching that total class act do something truly extraordinary that defines what sport is about to me. It’s about enjoying the best being the best, and indeed, enjoying sporting contests with ebb and flow. I love watching Barcelona, but not when they are duffing up some mid-table nonsense, but when they are in a contest. A true battle against a foe they could lose against. That’s when you see how good they are, and why the Champions League is as successful at is, because for all the fact that they win it more often than others, Barcelona sometimes struggle. Tainted by money and used by the rich to get richer the Champions League maybe, and that daft nonsense about putting the rich teams automatically in defines why business should just foxtrot oscar, but even in its present form it still knows that it needs to excite.

It is that excitement, passion, emotional investment, the need for good competition and entertainment that drives sport. The fact is, these are traits that are an advertisers or businessman’s dream. This is a demand that is super-loyal, and takes a lot to break. It is a clientele that when they fall for something, will become irrationally devoted to it. Association with your team, or your sport, is seen as a reinforcement, even sub-consciously, of what you believe in. But still they want more. The best playing the best more often, completely ignoring the short-term “gains” with the long term contempt those contests engender if they happen too often. It’s their relative rarity that makes them special. The World Cup is special because it takes place every four years. So are the Olympics. Sports administration just wants to make money, by and large. In F1, how can you have a grand prix in Sochi, but not in Germany like last year? How can Monza be under threat, but there be a race in Baku?

But it’s pernicious. I heard someone say that what else was all this football from all round Europe on TV for now? What is football on TV channels now other than a vehicle for in-play betting? Check out how many betting adverts there are on all football broadcasts. Betfair, Skybet, BetFred, Bet365, Betway, whatever that one Swann did, BetVictor, William Hill, The effing Ladbrokes Life, Paddy Power…. and that’s off the top of my head. I know a gambling addict, and I know that watching a football broadcast now is akin to mild torture. Football is the betting industry’s cash cow, and as some say, it doesn’t matter who it is, as long as it is televised. That has been levelled at cricket, with the reputation that affixes itself to any ODI that has a collapse, or a T20 where scoring rates slow surprisingly. I’m sorry, I find that objectionable. I want to watch sport, not intervals between middle class, mainly white blokes, celebrating whatever wins they have, or flogging me free bets.

But it’s money, and that’s what matters, and keeping our players in the huge pay to which they’ve become accustomed (I read today that Nathan Loftus Cheek is on £65k a week) and the next TV contract (£11m a match – just let that sink in) is just going to make it worse. But people can’t get enough of it. The English Premier League is a worldwide “brand”, is successfully run if you just look at the bottom line, and as far as we all know, not corrupt. I said, as far as we know. Again, despite some rumours floating around, we are given to believe that English cricket is largely without sin, but how do we know?

Colin Graves
The “Paul Downton Locked Cupboard Under The Stairs”. Currently occupied by Colin Graves

Contrasting the organisation of our behemoth “best league in the world (c)” and guardian football authorities with the ECB is interesting. The President of the ECB was awarded the post because it would have been too bloody to get rid of him altogether. So they created a post for him (the head of the FA is being pretty much forced out by the “blazers”. There’s much rejoicing that he will have to face the DCMS Select Committee, but it’s a Pyrrhic Victory getting him there now – although it might be jolly good fun. We have Colin Graves, who will obviously need a very long sheet of paper to detail what he’s been up to this past year, because, frankly, other than the KP thing, who the hell knows? Tom Harrison is lauded in some parts, but comes across as a slightly aloof, extremely dismissive, sharp suited chap we’re totally used to and who most of us would cross the road to avoid. The press office have changed little, we have a North Korean-like Twitter feed (it’s been ten years since Cook’s debut, which they commemorated twice this week), which is so resolutely upbeat it should be prescribed downers forthwith. The counties control the agenda, and change seems to be wrung out of them like a fiver out of my wallet when the charity collection comes round. I’d wager all the bosses of these counties, in their business lives, are great proponents of “change” but in this world, they seem rather reticent.

The award at the SJA last week for Death of a Gentleman has opened the window a bit, and the light is slightly seeping in. The MPs had a screening on Monday, and more and more clubs and institutions are showing it (I went to one at an unlikely venue, it has to be said). The word is getting out, and yet we still feel all so powerless. Our fears for the game fall on the deaf ears of administrators who want the power, and its measurable unit, money. We are to be monetised, as Gideon Haigh says in the film. We have no say. I understand people feeling that one voice doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

I’ve just finished “The Ugly Game” about the bid to win the 2022 World Cup. It is a book that has made me incredibly angry. Do NOT confuse this with “surprise”. I remember talking with people many years ago who said Joao Havelange was a crook, and Sepp Blatter was learning at his side. Blatter is the archetypal head of a crime syndicate. He’s not getting his hands dirty, but he’s certainly making sure that anyone becoming his henchman is going to get their’s very mucky. As Michel Platini is finding out, as Bin Hammam did before, if you take on Blatter, you are assured of your own destruction. The book actually made me feel sorry for Bin Hammam, would you believe. A billionaire businessman, bribing a way for Qatar to win the bid, and then disowned afterwards by both FIFA and his own royal family, as a result of getting too big for his boots and challenging Blatter. The list of corrupt practices in the FIFA “family” is relentless, yet the organisation is run as some sort of private slush fund for its corrupt members. The motto being “don’t get caught” but even if you do, we’ll bring in some judge on our dime to bury the evidence. Even today, Charles Sale repeats this line about the Qatar bid….

It emerged after the FIFA Congress in Zurich that the still-to-be-published Garcia report into the bidding process for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 has no smoking gun in its details.

The report will only the see light of day when an investigation into the conduct of Thailand’s Worawi Makudi is complete. But even if Garcia has uncovered one or two instances of bribes playing a part in those murky votes from 2010, it would not be enough for either country to lose the World Cup.

One or two? Jesus wept. Sale’s being a muppet here, because the Sunday Times ran this story to saturation before the World Cup in 2014, and there’s evidence that a key man bought votes. He did deals, it seems, with Spain to secure the Latin vote. He broke rule after rule, and yet he gets sent into purgatory and the paymasters, the people who get to reap the spoils have plausible deniability. And there is precisely fuck all we can do about it. Except speak out.

Sports administration, be it in football or cricket, needs vision and it needs to be open and transparent. It should run the sport, not be the sport. It should keep itself to matters organisational, and should not be intervening in the playing side (and if it does, it should be open and transparent as to why – and you know who I am getting at here). Sport has always been a business, and yet, now, it is more corporate than ever. That corporate nature is built upon those people who love moments like the Curry long-range shot, the Messi genius, the thrill of Grant Elliott’s semi-final six (which I committed to DVD last night) and such like. Moments of drama and excitement. They are up for sale, and you’ll pay the price. They are up for monetising you and your love, knowing it is an inelastic demand that takes a hell of a sacrifice to break. It preys on a form of addiction, and you, the punter, feel like can’t do anything about it. It’s wrong. Sports administration matters all right. You just choose not to admit it. This is OUR game they are flogging. Not their’s.

But it doesn’t matter, does it. Because they are ruining what you love. It’s always the same. When they are gone, with their damage, we will still be here. Paying the next lot the cash.