Field Theory by Hadyn Green


Professionalism is killing nostalgia

On this morning's Nine to Noon, Kathryn Ryan spoke with head sports reporter for the Sunday Times of London, David Walsh, on his assertion that professional sport is destroying the things we hold dear about sport itself.

Walsh has written books on the doping scandals that have plagued cycling in recent years, so I was expecting him to lament the loss of true human talent and inspirational feats. Instead his arguments were based on nostalgic views towards a better time, somewhere in the past, when he started watching sport.

That was the time when there was no sledging, no cheating, and true respect for the sport and your competition. I don't know when Walsh started watching sport but it must have been a wondrous time, possibly before the invention of television and radio.

Walsh's main argument did ring true however. It used to be that sportspeople had to earn a living in order to fund their sport (much like netball, today); this gave them experience in the working world of regular schmoes like you and me. Now the players can leave school and all they have to do (if they are good enough) is show up for promotional activities. This means that when they get into their 30s professional players are at a loss of what to do next, with many scrounging for work at second division teams. Though I felt Walsh spent too much time focusing on how "this generation plays too many computer games and the Facebook".

Walsh cites Jannie and Bismarck Du Plessis as good examples of how professional sportsmen can be. Both play for Sharks in the Super 14 and also work on their family farm. Jannie is also a doctor while Bismarck is an insurance broker.

The idea is that working in (sharp intake of breath) the real world gives players a perspective they don't have in the sports world. While the accomplishments and lessons they learn on the field can be brought back into their working lives.

But is this really a call for a return to amateurism? The reason why we have professional sports is that it works, commercially, and Walsh acknowledges this. Sport, even the sport we complain about, brings in big dollars.

I think what Walsh is trying to say, as he trips himself up in nostalgia, is that we would really like our professional athletes, coaches, sporting bodies and fans to have a bit of perspective. Sometimes winning isn't everything.

This caught my attention after Simon G said yesterday:

The appeal of the Ashes? It's sport. It's about winning and losing. Or in Cardiff, thrillingly drawing. It's as simple as ... people really caring about the result.

It's not about growing the brand, enhancing the franchise, and optimising market share going forward.

Note that the result is not the same as winning and losing. The result is the overall game, were the players playing in the spirit of the game or were they actually trying to subvert the rules to win.

Walsh uses the example of eye-gouging; how much do you want to win that you are willing to damage another person's sight?


In other professional sports news, New Zealand is going to get a new provincial rugby competition. Or rather the structure of the current one will change.

This is what it'll look like:

That's 11 weeks of New Zealand provincial rugby at the tail end of winter/beginning of spring.

Division One (not to be confused with the Premier Division) has only six teams in it. These are the four teams from the current Air New Zealand Cup who don't do well on the Solvency Test and Assessable Criteria, (as agreed to by participating Air New Zealand Cup Provincial Unions). So I imagine that'll be: Counties, Northland, Tasman and Manuwatu. They'll be joined by the two best teams from the current Heartland Division.

And yes. There will be automatic promotion and relegation between the Premier Division and Division One. Currently there will be no swapping between the Heartland and Division Una, though that is still up for discussion.

Oh it's exciting times we live in, isn't it?

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