Almost everybody loves live sport. You just never know what is going to happen and it’s often thrilling and uplifting, something different, a high point. Last week, after I got back from Mexico City, I watched the Rugby World Cup final. I knew the result, of course, and that spoiled it for me. The tension was gone. And with it went the excitement. I enjoyed the skills I saw and the heart of the Australians, but is was not live.
Last weekend, by contrast, I went to watch a Top14 rugby game – it’s French rugby’s answer to the Premier League. It was a game between the championship leader Clermont and the last-placed Stade Français, the reigning champions, who won the 2014-2015 title in June – beating Clermont in the final. So, on paper it looked like a game in which pretty much anything could happen. That proved to be the case, with Stade Français getting ahead and then Clermont catching up. The last five minutes were wild as Clermont strove to score a try that would give them victory and Stade Français defended mightily, as their thousands of home fans screamed encouragement. It was great stuff. Brilliant entertainment and sensibly priced. It is true that rugby has now come into money and the rich clubs have an advantage, but this match was what the sport is all about: a battle for victory, using skill and courage.
I long ago stopped watching cycling and athletics after I lost trust in the sport because of all the drug-taking. The latest scandal relating the the Russian federation comes as no surprise at all. I don’t much care for soccer and the FIFA scandals disgust me. In a lot of ways F1 is lucky not be in such messes, but there is still plenty wrong with what we have.
The fundamental problem in all sport is money, or perhaps I should say the people who worship money. Most are very smart people, but they seem to be missing a point: you cannot take it with you. All wealth is utterly meaningless in the face of death. Once one has accumulated sufficient wealth to last a lifetime, it is really only a way to score points – and that warps people.
It is a point that people like Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates seem to understand. They give away billions each year, in the tradition of American steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who donated about $350 million (which today would be worth around $13.7 billion), almost 90 percent of his fortune, in order to fund the construction of no fewer than 2,509 libraries around the world, believing that education was the most important thing
“The man who dies rich,” he said, “dies disgraced.”
I am saddened by the way the sport is run. Yes, I understand that it is the job of private equity people to make money but for me sport is not business, it is passion and it belongs to no-one. I hate the weakness of the regulator and the sense of entitlement that the big teams have. Have they not got the guts to battle with the smaller teams on a level playing field? And yet, despite all this, we don’t have performance-enhancing drugs. Yes, we have had cheating, but those who cheat are smart enough to know, deep down, that the person who is cheated the most is the cheater, because he or she knows that they are a fraud and that will hurt any intelligent person.
It would be so much better if the commercial rights were exploited by some kind of foundation and that the proceeds distributed to build up the sport globally, rather than being siphoned away. Yes, some of the people would probably steal the money, but at least some of it would be doing some good.