It's a Grand Old Flag
Since my last column, where I talked about the ups and downs of being a Melbourne supporter, they have done their best to illustrate my point. While it was great to see the Demons come so close two weeks ago, it was a bitter blow to see them fall short so close to victory. And, then last week they showed what they can be when they stormed the once nigh on invulnerable fortress of Skilled Stadium and left the Cats reeling in one of the best wins of recent years. What coach Paul Roos described as perhaps the best victory under his tenure.
I am trying not to get too excited at this point. I have made that mistake too many times in the past. But there is reason to believe that the Demons are on the way up, and that something is being built under Roos' experienced eye. This round's win was not built on a single individual performance. There were plenty of stand out contributors. Nor was it a result of the other team performing badly. The Dees outplayed Geelong, and saw off several robust challenges, holding their nerve to claim a well deserved win.
I'll be watching the rest of their season with a great deal of interest and hoping it isn't another false dawn.
Taking a dive
Not all the sporting news of the past few weeks has been so heartening. I wish I could say that I am shocked by the recent revelations of corruption at the heart of FIFA, soccer's international governing body, but the truth is that I don't think anyone is surprised. There is so much money involved in soccer that the actual sport part is almost an incidental by-product, and the main focus is moving huge sums of cash around.
Soccer has been morally bankrupt for a number of years now. And it is not just the fact that the bidding process for the right to host World Cups appears to have been compromised for decades. Any sporting body that is willing to turn a blind eye to over a thousand deaths amongst workers constructing the facilities for its marquee event, as appears to be the case in Qatar, has truly lost its way.
Sport plays a huge role in many people's lives, especially those in developing countries who often don't have a lot to celebrate. Supporters' hopes and dreams can be deeply invested in the teams that they follow, and what they ask in return is that those who play at an elite level and, perhaps more importantly, those who administer the sport remain conscious of their responsibility. When the consumers of a sport cannot trust that they are seeing their heroes try their utmost every time they walk on the ground, that referees and umpires are fair and impartial, and that administrators are not in it for their own gain, the very soul of that sport is on the line.
The love of money
Sadly, this is what happens when the pursuit of money becomes more important than the game itself. Yes, governing bodies have a responsibility to be good stewards and to grow the game they are in control of, but sport does not exist to make money. It makes money to further the sport. As I have said in other columns, we are seeing an increasing tendency amongst sporting administrators to use business speak, to talk about growing their brand or about KPIs and quantifiables.
I don't know whether there is a way back for FIFA, or if they can regain the support of grassroots supporters. Fans' passion for soccer is so strong that they will continue to watch the game despite FIFA, not because of it. But it is hard to see that they will ever regain any shred of moral authority. Other sports would do well take a salutary lesson from soccer's shame, and be aware that with great profits comes even greater temptation.
Cricket bodies in particular should be very attentive indeed, because that game is at a turning point where it needs to decide what it wants to be—a sport with a long and glorious tradition, or a cash cow to be milked until it topples over, dead. There is so much money to be made in cricket that it is starting to attract more and more of the type of people who don't care about the game but can see the profits that can come from being involved. We are seeing many of the excesses of soccer starting to pop up in cricket: mercenary players commanding huge fees, advertising rates rocketing, shady businessmen circling in the water, administrators who put their ego and position above the welfare of the game, and bribes and kickbacks determining who goes where and when.
Administrators must first and foremost be lovers of the game who want what is best for it, not for their bottom line. And those who are guardians of the sport need to continue to take steps to ensure that money is the game's servant, not its master. Otherwise, what has happened to soccer may very well be a prophecy showing us the future of cricket, too.
David Goodwin is the Editor of The Salvation Army's magazine, On Fire. 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