Lanka and West Indies are currently knee-deep in a tri-nation ODI series
in the Caribbean. If that came as a
surprise to you, don’t worry. You won’t be the only one to not have a clue that
it’s happening. Series like these always inspires the one-worded question: Why?
That’s easily answered with one word: Cash.
Cricket, like almost all other sports, has
become a commodity. The more money that can be squeezed out of it, the better.
Just ask England and New Zealand who recently
forced two additional T20s into a tour schedule for those exact same
reasons. Sport needs to make money, because it has become a business. If it
fails to make money, that means the business has failed and in real life, when
that happens, a business closes down.
Marketers and broadcasters try their
hardest to sell meaning to its audience. Tugging on heartstrings is the easiest
way to fox people into believing they’re part of something. It’s easy to make
people believe that one contest is slightly more precious because the two teams
have been at it for years.
Some sports have it easier than others.
Tennis is easily sold as an individual’s brilliance, as can golf. Club soccer
is about clinching the trophy at the end of the season or surviving the
drop. Global tournaments have the glory
of lifting the trophy at the end of it.
Cricket and rugby, though, lends itself to
something far more complicated. There are the age-old rivalries between some
teams, but there’s also a whole lot of plonk. That goes for all formats of
cricket. Test cricket, T20 cricket and one-day cricket all have a whole lot of
teams play each other who don’t really “go away back”.
In fact, some teams don’t go back at all
because they rarely play each other. Others play each other and never win and
the only sort of rivalry they have is their time zones. There are a whole lot of
games played which aren’t really going to inspire a group of people to take to
the street in celebration if their team wins – and that’s fine.
Some argue that the overkill of games
diminishes the meaning even more, even those games which have this apparent
meaning through rivalry. When teams play
each other so much, some might say that administrators are losing sight of this
hidden “meaning”. But much of that
meaning was manufactured in the first place and transcended decades most sports
fans want to believe it. There is nothing wrong with buying into the concept of
a deep-rooted rivalry, but it’s the modern world and sport at the top level is just a game. The kind of
game that is there for entertainment.
So there’s a quarry of rather large
philosophical proportions, much too obtuse for a simple cricket writer to
decipher and assess. That there is an issue with the way cricket is
administrated, there is no doubt. Power struggles, corruption, greedy administrators
and a whole host of other factors all conspire to make cricket seem somewhat
This all leads to a whole bunch of games
played mainly to generate broadcasting revenue. But there are equally as many
games (of all formats) played between two teams who don’t really have much of a
rivalry between them, leaving plenty of matches with little context.
It begs the question: does sport need
context to have meaning?
It’s easy to get on a high horse and
proclaim that some contests are more important than others. That some are more
meaningful because the rivalries add
context, global tournaments add context, and history of competitions add
context. But what if none of those
factors are present? Does sport really need some sort of intricate tapestry to
be relevant or for it to matter?
Of course it has meaning. Sport always has
meaning. Its meaning is to entertain, to enthral, to be mesmerised. Whether
that comes from a marvellous unbeaten 174 in a match made-for-TV or from a
nail-biting last wicket stand on the final day of a Test between Australia and
England doesn’t really matter.
Sport will always have meaning. If that
meaning, in some cases, is simply to entertain those who are interested, then
so what? It really shouldn’t matter too much that there are some games without
any sort of so-called substantial context.
It’s a fine line to tread, accepting that
sport serves as entertainment and some forms of entertainment aren’t for
everyone’s taste. At the same time, one has to guard against simply accepting
that sport is used for nothing more than making money, but there is equally nothing wrong with sport
One cannot get too precious. There are issues are far deeper than a few
teams playing each other too much for monetary reasons, but that’s a column for another day.
Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly about
soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have
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