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25

Part 15: The money shot

by Aye Calypso 3

It's the world cup, it's playing out in paradise, and there are hardly any fans at the games. Yesterday's game in Guyana was a case in point. Sri Lankans v the hosts, whose backs were firm against the wall. But sod all went to watch. Guyana is a very poor country, and tickets cost the equivalent of nearly a month's wages.

Can you pinpoint the exact moment when your favourite sport was poisoned by greedy financiers? In football this is a perennial theme. The big European clubs, for example, have apparently lost their local identity, their sponsors and oligarchs thrust squillions at chairmans and boards to supercharge their playing personnel and other investments. But it's kind of an old issue, and can blur with racist arguments when there aren't apparently enough of 'our boys' in the side. And these gripes won't go away, so long as every Saturday there are hundreds of thousands of fans ready to trudge up to the gate and shell out. Or, more likely, so long as there are many millions more paying to watch the games on the telly.

Some purists think cricket sold its soul during the Packer revolution, when very silly and colourful clothes grabbed test cricket by the trouser waist during the protracted saucy party we now call the seventies. But that's being a bit obstinate about commercial realities. And social ones. People like one-day cricket. They may continue to quite enjoy Twenty20 cricket, or they may fling it into the closet with the moths and Martin Crowe and Max.

The current malaise in one-day cricket started awhile back, and has a lot to do with pay television and exclusive rights. New Zealanders might think that Sky Television own cricket. Many submit, and pay the $35-60 per month to watch games; others boycott, and scan newspapers and websites for stories. But people adapt, and there's a new logic to the commerce. Yet too often we turn on the box and see something utterly illogical.

Empty stands. Is there anything more sad in theatre of sport? Stand up, you genius sports administrators. Where is the adherence to commercial realities here? The bureaucrats are deep in some salty dream, where hoards of locals from Guyana and Antigua and St Kitts forgo an afternoon of online stocks trading to toodle down to the cricket in their Bentleys. People are not coming to the games, so they (the West Indies Cricket Board) must lower the ticket prices, now. It really is that simple. A full house paying quarter price is better than a stadium quarter-full of people paying full price. If it's chocker, then they can sell loads of food and drink and musical instruments (particularly given people aren't allowed to bring in any of those). More importantly, we in TV-land would like some Atmosphere, that elusive quality that comes from large groups of people having fun. You can't buy that. Despite the obvious high-profile dilemmas in this world cup already, we still want our team to achieve something good in a good tournament, but not in some lame congress diminished by blind greed.

Alex Gilks

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