Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Ugly Sides of Sports

Sports, as we know it, can be a form of beauty, competition, healthy lifestyle, hobby and etc. However in recent weeks, sports had also shown its ugly side to the world, internationally and locally. How the beauty of the sport can actually transcend into such an ugly side? It will usually boils down to greed and glory. But where could the glory be where money is involved.

Let’s start with the last F1 race in Sepang, Malaysia. As most people who followed the sport who have known that Sebastien Vettel ignored his team’s orders and actually raced his team mate, Mark Webber, for the race win. F1 is actually a complex sport where 2 titles will be at stake, the Drivers Championship and Constructors Championship. With Webber in the lead and Vettel trailing second in the race, Red Bull made the decision to secure the race win with Webber finishing first and Vettel second. The instructions were clear to bring both cars home as they would not know how the tyres would finish. They will also be able to bring back maximum points in the race to ensure they are the favourites for the Constructors Championship. However Vettel, being the youngest triple world champion, had other ideas. His ego got the better of him, since he is still young, he challenge Webber for the win when Webber actually tune down his car to conserve his tyres and fuel. Vettel won in the end, but what did he gain?

He admitted his mistakes and apologized to the team and Webber, but the damage has already been done. His willingness to win may make him a legend in the future, but ignoring team orders basically gave the world the perception that he thinks that he is bigger than the team. Let’s just see how Red Bull will manage the 2 drivers in the later part of the season, which will be highly critical of their future successes. Just thought of point in NBA a few years back, where LA Lakers had to make a decision between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Both can work together in a game, but their ego can’t. Lakers ultimately chose the young upstart in Kobe and gave up Shaq. Kobe thought he was bigger than the team and tried to lead like a Michael Jordan, and they ended up struggling, while Shaq would go on to play a few more seasons with other teams in retirement mood.

Then there is the ongoing problem of match-fixing in football where Singapore had become the centre of attraction. In fact, just recently 3 match officials who were supposed to officiate in an AFC Cup competition between Tampines Rovers and an Indian Team, were being detained due to suspicion of match fixing. While competitors’ greed is to win as much glory as possible, like Vettel, a normal layman like us would like to earn as much money as possible. Singapore is not known for producing world class athletes, but the ability to fixing matches globally made us well known in the sporting world. We are able to see top class players earning outrageous wages just by training and playing games week in week out, those top class players would only represent a small fraction of the players worldwide who had made it. Just compare them with our own S League players. The designated marquee players don’t even earn in a moth what these top players earn in a week. So in come the match fixers to offer the lesser players and officials incentives to throw matches, which you can perceive as a form of supplementing their income. Where do these match fixers get their money? Simple, just promise the players or officials the right amount, bet heavily on the fixed games and voila! Everybody goes home happy!

Players turned professional because they loved their sport, but to lower down their integrity to produce adverse results in exchange for money, they are killing their own sports. Not only from them, even top players who keep negotiating new deals with clubs to increase their wages is also killing it. If they really loved their sport, will money matters much? I mean professionals in Barclays Premier League would be able to retire peacefully from the amount they earned from 10 years ago. More than 10 years ago, a forty thousand pound per week cap would be the norm for top class teams like Manchester United and Liverpool then. But it has escalated to that amount being used to keep a young promising talent at a club. Now the players play the game like doing business and likewise, the clubs developing and managing players like a business. Who will be at the losing end? It will always be the consumers!

Come back to local front where I’ve said earlier Singapore don’t seemed to produce enough world class athletes, it just puzzle me. Looking at different sports at the youth level, we had actually achieved quite good results, but progressing on to the senior stage, they seemed to have stagnated or disappear totally. The well-known fact for the boys would they have to serve 2 years in the National Service, which will also coincide with their critical development stages for their sports. Some will struggle to juggle, which may not may not succeed, most usually give up altogether. What about the girls?

While girls do not need to serve National Service, during the same time frame, they will be considering for their future. What would the sports bring them? Most of them are usually student athletes and once they complete their academic education and start their working life, it would also spell the end of their sporting careers.

If we look even more closely into the problem, most student athletes are actually quite good students, or just studying in a top school because of their sporting achievements. Bringing it a level down, schools not only focus on academic achievements as their KPIs now, they also identified sports as a factor to bring up the image of their school. As such, you can see most top schools offering sports programs and scholarships to interest top athletes in joining them. Especially for O Levels students, if you do well in your sports, you may be wooed to some top Junior Colleges via direct entry. In fact, this had also put a strain on the athletes’ parents. If sports can be a factor to achieve academic success, why not!

During a recent schools’ competition at the primary school level, I’ve actually seen parents getting into the act in complaining about unfair judging and biasness. Being parents, I can understand them always wanting the best for their kids, but a competition is still a competition, where there will always be winners and losers. They have to understand that the world does not revolve around them. But if they got their way, their children would be crowned champions, but does it matter at a primary school level where development and enjoyment should be emphasized more? Well, if their kids won, they could bring more recognition and glory to the school, and when they reached graduating years, they can be offered places at top schools too. So, basically instead of focusing on the actual development in skills and attitude, the parents will try ways and means to win, using sports as a tool to gain a foothold in their academic paths!

Will we reach a day where sports is merely used as a tool for other gains? It might happen in the future, and will we still embrace the sports we once loved as it is?

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