Sport should be entertaining, not an entertainment
Last Sunday more than 100 million people watched the Superbowl, the climax of the American football season. Though that seems astounding, it’s as nothing to the 1.1 billion people who turned in at some point in the France-Croatia football World Cup final in 2018.
Broadcasters, sponsors, advertisers and sports officials understand the power of sport as an entertainment – as do investors with funds from Cinven to Elliott throwing money at sports clubs and competitions to cash in on the power of sport to draw in an audience.
One of the things that makes sport so compelling is its unpredictability. A moment of brilliance or error can turn victory into defeat. And what all sports fans want is the proverbial “level playing field” – they want all competitors to have the same chance.
That is why two decisions in recent high profile sporting events go against the gain.
Firstly the decision by Formula 1 race director Michael Masi to controversially allow a race in the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, effectively handing the Championship to the young challenger Max Verstappen rather than Lewis Hamilton – who was heading for his eighth title. Masi’s decision was justified because he did not want the race to end as a tame precession behind a safety car – which had come onto the track because of an accident.
Secondly is the strange case of 15-year-old Russian skating protégé Kamila Valieva, who wowed fans around the world in as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) came first in the team event. It emerged that Valieva had failed a drug test in December, but this had not been communicated to the International Olympic Committee until after she competed. The IOC’s ruling was that it would hold off handing out medals until it finished its investigations, and would allow Valieva to compete in the individual event, which she is favourite to win.
Not wishing to get into the rights and wrongs of each decision, what I worry is that the sporting bodies have decided to bend their own rules to boost the viewing figures for the events. Of course people would rather watch drivers battling each other on a racing circuit that following a saloon car in single file. And they’d rather see the most talented ice skater in the world completing routines no-one else can do.
However, sportspeople from around the world and from multiple different disciplines say both decisions are manifestly unfair, as they breach the spirit, if not the letter, of the rules of the FIA and IOC. And the accusation is that the sports officials have been guided by the need to provide the best entertainment rather than the best competition.
If you want entertainment over fairness - then go to Hollywood. Otherwise you might as well hand Ben Johnson back his Olympic 100m gold medal, or Lance Armstrong his seven Tour de France victories. And don’t mention the Hand of God!