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Rajpal's Column

17th May 1998

Money kicks sports into backyard

By Rajpal Abeynayake

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Sports should be disenthroned. Where sports is sports , it belongs in the sports pages, but where real life intersects, writers can take the liberty of pulling sports out of the regular slot. Some of the seamier aspects of sports are now said to be of Asian origin. Half the world is crazy over football, and it has been established by the cup organisers that the football world championship is under grave threat from match fixing by Asian bookmakers.

These men have already offered referees and players millions to fix matches, which is obvious because they stand to make even more millions from heavy betting on the World Cup.Sports lost its innocence long ago, but the match fixing that threatens the football world championship is probably the nadir. International sports was never what it was made out to be; surveying history it is obvious that one of the least sporting political decisions were taken in the world of sport.

But, these new depths are stunning. The Olympics are threatened by a dope invasion. The world cup is threatened by match fixing. In Sri Lanka, the Cricket Board is embroiled in a controversy over the granting of television rights, because the rights issue was skewed by an earlier deal which gave new meaning to the word wheeler dealing.

That's about enough to say enough is enough in the world of sports. International sports has lost its raison d'e tre. National assertiveness has become identified too strongly with sport in the modern context in which dominance, the old fashioned way by force of arms is, except for the Americans perhaps. Sports was meant to be the civilised alternative, the international de-stresser. But the players who were the ambassadors in the alternate scenario, turned suddenly into buffoons. Buffoonery took over when sportsmen became celebrities in a way that their cerebral powers could not accommodate it.

Now we are faced with a situation in which spectator sports has to be viewed in a backdrop in order that we can trust the result. Spectators have to make sure that the athletes have not taken steroids, or that the umpires have not been paid off. What all this means is probably that the sportsmen were the wrong ambassadors in the first place. It was naive to think that athletes and footballers were going to be lily white in an imperfect world?

Some thought so in the first place. The show of pectorals at the latter day Olympics for instance was almost obscene, because the events did nothing to hide the buffoonery behind the idea of having to practise for four years, and having to stretch human endurance to ridiculous levels merely in order to win a medal. Not that the final show was that great either. Though a lot of us would not probably admit to it, it would be difficult to find a sportsman, let alone a marginally interested observer , who was not bored stiff by the repetitive nature of Olympic competition. There is so much sane persons can tolerate of watching 20 swimming events at a stretch in the space of four days.

So, perhaps the investment on sports as the international lubricant may have been misplaced. We chose the wrong medium. We chose brawn to be the common medium between nations when we knew that the brawny are most of the time just that - brawny.

Okay, mistakes are made but can the world now wake upto the idea that sports is obsolete as the ideal human pursuit that is supposed to bring nations together? Like hell sports does. ( Refer the Columbia soccer player who was bumped off when he reached home after the last world cup in America. He scored an own goal in a qualifying game - and the story goes that he may have done it because he was paid to fix the match. )

Sports should be disenthroned and brought down to the level of beauty pageant status. At least.

Anyway, all this should at least tangentially bring us to the nationalist crescendo that has been raised over cricket for instance, here in Sri Lanka. As a whole , Sri Lankan's failed to see the hubris that surrounded the World Cup victory, though it was certainly a genuine victory and a genuine celebration that followed. But, that pride should have lasted for the allowed fifteen minutes, ( recommended by Andy Warhol, sowhere) But expectations grew, and everyone, some say even Prabhakaran, sought relief in the spectacle of cricket which was lovely yet supposed to be healthy and sufficiently abstracted from real life.

When the fall came, perfectly sane men were seen crying like idiots. Some said they couldn't fall asleep because Sri Lanka lost to South

Africa, the rub being deeper because the South Africans were almost an all white team. That's what happens, it seems now, when ersatz pride is created over the wrong endeavour, and when nationalism is defined by sport. Sports is meant for unreal people, the way drama is meant for actors. It is played, generally, by the cerebrally weaker. The last place you could confidentially hope for , well, diplomacy and sportsmen like behaviour? Let's get real, and show those sportsmen their right place. In the international backyard.


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