Whatever the case, money in sports and commercial patronage to players will continue to be forever to come

July 04 - 10, 2005

Money has been part of sports for as long as one can remember. There are no two questions about it. Even in the old Soviet state where the glory of the country was far greater than the imperialistic or capitalistic aims were, the athlete's material well-being was looked after through housing.

Apart from employing the demigod status the sports personalities entertain, money has been defining factor in the popularity graph of all big names. Anywhere you look today you can see Afridi is belting the opposition for sixes into the car park; Sohail Abbas is sounding records off the board while Aisam is serving match winners, one after the other. Every time someone watches television or reads a newspaper these, and many other athletes can be found.

Professional sports are all around us; they're a part of our culture. But, in the last few decades changes took place that really gave us the shudders. As the popularity of professional sports increased, so has the cost to render them and the players' salaries. Many of the contracts signed today are for millions of rupees. This is unreasonably exorbitant for doing something that is generally considered to be fun. So much so that these days, many feel, sports are centered on money and not focused on the love of the game. And by and large, cricket's fans here in the subcontinent hold these exact same feelings.

The success of Tendulkar, off the field and more on television commercials than on the field, especially during the recently concluded Pakistan tour of India, has many raising their eye-brows over what are we really admiring; Tendulkar's batting skills or his acting skills?

Though we don't have cricketer in the current Pakistan cricket team, of Tendulkar's stature or popularity, there are memories to play with here.

Who can forget the Sharjah and Javed Miandad, who with the help of a solitary 'Six' earned more than what most of our politicians give in taxes every year! After the six, players contracts were revised and much such that Miandad benefited most.

But there are those who argue that money in sports is important for the welfare and its development, especially money from private institutions like ABN AMRO, the Dutch Bank that dished out Rs300 million to help organize the country's first 20/20 tournament. Players' kit, food, and free entrance to hundreds of spectators were just some of the things that were made possible through this money. But such sponsorship had been part of Pakistani sports for a long time. PIA for example, patronized the national hockey team that has now fallen on bad times. During its gold reign, PIA patronized the national hockey with blanket sponsorships that helped the team as well as the national airline establish a name for itself across the globe. Then there was the Pakistan Tobacco Company that, with the help of its brand, Wills, successfully supported cricket in Pakistan for more than a decade. However, when its support dwindled, so did any financial support for the national cricket board. And with global curbs on tobacco advertising, in place now, all seemed lost for the PCB, until ABN AMRO resurrected it. Money in sports has also helped us see unrestricted coverage of all sporting events from across the globe. Cricket, hockey, football, thanks to TEN Sports and the money that it is willing to spend, Pakistanis were able to enjoy the 20/20 tournament in the US also.

Before the private corporation generously started commercializing sports, the state had been the sole sponsor of sports. But as soon as the line between professional and amateur sportsmen was drawn, that support slowly moved away. When the Indian sprinter, PT Usha returned home from the Seoul Asian Games, in 1986, where she laurels on the track, she was generously rewarded athletic exploits by the Indian government . One car, some property and a few hundred thousand rupees.

Today, Tendulkar is being showered by gifts worth millions of rupees by corporate India and he has not even the cricket world cup!

Government support for sports in general too has declined over the years. Times have changed, so have the priorities, there are now signboard dotting the landscape of Karachi's National Stadium. Marriage parties are held on the grounds that were once only suppose to act as a car-park. The grounds around the Hockey Club of Pakistan Stadium have been permanently turned into marriage garden and accommodation for military personnel. It seems that the government is now content on patronizing anybody with money, rather than sport and its players.

But, as Rahul Dravid once argued in an interview, if the player is not good, when how can he attract sponsorship or if the game is not well settled, how can it attract money?

Judging by the money that has come into cricket and proportionately comparing it with the amount that some come into hockey, both in Pakistan and in India, and this definitely holds true. But with money comes corruption. The match fixing scandals that rocked cricket till a few years back, and still lingers on to some degree, were the result of a whole lot of money.

Whatever the case, money in sports and commercial patronage to its players will continue to be forever to come. The only worrying question here is, who will we allow to rule what: sports, the money or money the sports? I guess we will have to think about that after the next sponsorship deal!