I enjoyed following the latest Cricket World Twenty20 competition. There was some amazing cricket played, and some standout individual performances. Most of all, I was delighted to see the West Indies win. After the criticism they had copped from their own board as a group or mercenaries the rebel in me loved hearing Darren Sammy give his board a dressing down.
Of course, the WICB responded by taking credit for the successes of the West Indies team, and blaming all their problems on players chasing money from overseas leagues and neglecting their own local cricket
The Lure of the Dollar
There is no doubt that many professional sportspeople don't say in one place, instead going to the most lucrative option. And, it's not just cricket that has this problem, soccer has long been known for "fly in, fly out" players, who command huge sums of money for representing clubs with whom they have no real connection. As a Melbourne Demons fan, I remember how betrayed many of my fellow supporters felt when Tom Scully went across to GWS—to the point of taking fake bags of money to the game to wave at him.
I've spoken before about how team loyalties are hard, if not almost impossible, to break. It's understandable why fans get so frustrated, even angry, when they see players moving from club to club, or team to team. When you have poured your passion and support—and quite often your money—into a particular loyalty, it's hard to understand why people given the chance do what you have always dreamed of can be seemingly uncaring about what shirt they pull on.
Making the Most of Things
As much as it bothers me, I can understand the player's point of view. It's not just the financial side of things, though that is obviously a factor. When you only have a limited amount of time to make a living from something, why wouldn't you want to maximise your earnings? Most professional athletes are past their prime at thirty, which leaves a long time for them to live off the money they made in that narrow window. If you have a family to care for, sometimes you have to make hard decisions.
I'm not saying there aren't players who don't care about their supporters, about the game, and merely want to maximise what they get out of their sport—rather than trying to give back as well. That's just the reality of human nature, and is not limited to athletes. You will see that in every profession and occupation.
Personally, I admire the sportsmen and women who spend their careers appearing for the same team, often accepting lower pay out of loyalty. There are cricketers who have resisted the IPL siren song of fame and fortune because they want to represent their country in Test cricket. There are footballers who turn down stupendous amounts of money to move clubs because they want to stay where they are.
It Works Both Ways
To me that is the ideal, the way it should be, but if it is not the reality it is not necessarily the players we should be blaming. They didn't create this environment. Loyalty is a two-way street. Sporting clubs and organisations have long since stopped treating players as anything more than the sum of their statistics—how they contribute to the team's performance on and off the field.
Why should the West Indies players give up IPL contacts for a board that has a pattern of lying to them, slandering them, and appears to be run for the purpose of creating cushy jobs for the boys? Why should an AFL player turn down millions out of loyalty to a club that might cut him the next year because the next new thing has arrived?
A Fair Deal
During the World Series crisis that tore cricket apart, the cricketers who accepted Kerry Packer's cash were accused of putting their personal gain ahead of the game itself and, like the West Indies cricketers today, called mercenaries who cared nothing for national pride. But, that ignored the fact that the players who actually gave of their sweat and—much more often in the days before helmets—their blood on the pitch, and brought spectators through the gate, got very little of the money flowing into the game. Many of them sacrificed their off field careers, neglected their family, because they wanted to play. And, in return, they were treated as disposable commodities by the old men who ran the game. Eventually something had to give.
The Way of the World
I don't know what the answer is. This is merely a reflection of the world we live in. Gone are the days where people spent their whole working life at the same company, retiring with their gold watch. Most companies won't hesitate to lay people off when the bottom line gets tight, putting aside concepts like loyalty and gratitude in the service of the almighty dollar.
Companies increasingly ask far more of their employees than they are willing to give. I worked the unhappiest six months of my professional life for a bank that made billions, and paid their CEO millions, all the while refusing to pay for the staff needed at the ground level and continually cutting benefits.
So, in a world where sports are run like businesses is it any wonder that athletes might have started to put themselves first instead relying on the gratitude of those who pay the bills?
Of course, that leaves us, the fans, caught in the middle. All we can do is make our voices heard. When the clubs or teams we support treat players like commodities, we need to make our displeasure known. Maybe then they will get the message that we want loyalty from our sportspeople—and loyalty shown to them in return.
David Goodwin is a freelance writer based in Melbourne. He is a cricket tragic, having run a cricket club and a cricket association, and attempts to hit sixes and bowl legspin as often as possible
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html