By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published September 28, 2015
A look back in time at amateurism and the birth of professionalism in sports juxtaposed with present-day professional sports gives some foresight into what high school sports might be like in the future.
Marcus Garvey once said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.” So, as I often do on weekends, I ventured into the past, to keep rooted in the present, so that I’m prepared for the future.
Last weekend, I read an article published in 1931 by the Sydney Morning Herald about a staggering professional contract offered to Australian, Sir Don Bradman, the number-one batsman in the world then, and the most dominant batsman Test cricket has seen. The contract was worth potentially £500-1000 per annum for three years and was offered to him by the Accrington Cricket Club, a once prominent cricket club in Lancashire, England. As I read the article and later perused the offer telegram and other documents, I chuckled at the similarities and polarities of the past and present and paused to wonder, what other present views on sports or cricket will remain the same, or drastically change in the near or far futurity?
The Accrington offer had Bradman juxtaposed with differing outcomes and polarizing public views. If Bradman accepted the offer, he would have been ineligible to play for Australia due to his 1930 contract with Australian Board of Control for International Cricket. The 1930 contract prevented the young man, without a profession, from playing professional cricket in England by or before 1932. Henceforth, if he accepted the Accrington offer, his Test career would end immediately. However, with at least twice the yearly salary of the average man in Australia on offer, he would be able to provide for his family.
The public views were polarized between his commitment to the country and his livelihood, and so too the decision for Bradman. A substitute deal was proffered by the Australians to keep him home though the monetary worth was less than half of the Accrington deal. Bradman eventually rejected the Accrington offer and chose less money, home, and Test cricket.
Before he made his decision, the Daily Telegraph in England was quoted in that 1931 article as saying “No considerable number of people in Australia and England would wish to encourage the development of cricket as an entertainment industry, played by professionals, whose only interest is commercial. Cricket has become a synonym for pure sportsmanship. It would be absurd pedantry to insist that a man should never change his cricket nationality, but the general feeling that he should not change it for purely financial reasons is well justified.”
A loaded quote I thought in comparison to today’s world of sports. I then wondered if the Daily Telegraph or any local newspaper would make such a statement now. Today, numerous individuals encourage the development of sports as an entertainment industry. The players are professionals whose main interest is commercial – probably not solely – but believe me; we are getting there quickly and surely.
For example, T20 league cricket is an entertainment industry played throughout the world by professionals whose only interest without question is commercial. We see it all year-round in the different T20 leagues: the Indian Premier League, Australia’s Big Bash, the Caribbean Premier League, and others. This applies not only to cricket but a majority of sports worldwide. In America, the two most popular sports – basketball (NBA) and American football (NFL) – stand out in this regard.
Pure sportsmanship in sports is a fading cloud of smoke. Most sports today are marred with unsportsmanlike conduct on all ethical levels and is littered with the often rewarded and celebrated ‘win at all cost’ attitudes. Fairness and following the rules of the game is selective, and doping among other infractions is rife, and continuously slice through sportsmanship like a knife.
Footballers dive to win penalties; cricketers appeal catches not taken cleanly; cricketers don’t walk when a catch is taken cleanly – though knowing they edged the ball; footballers and basketball players instigate confrontations or fake contact with opposing players to get them sent off. In the recent past and present, athletes dope to run faster, cyclists dope to ride quicker and farther, and baseball players dope to hit homers more frequent and further. In today’s world of professional sports, pure sportsmanship is seemingly a façade or is dying.
Nonetheless, sportsmen, whether cricketers, athletes or footballers, changing their nationality due to financial reasons has become more prevalent – but it is justified. The examples are innumerable to mention. Nevertheless, we have seen examples recently with a few of our Jamaican-born athletes switching their nationalities due to financial reasons. Unsurprisingly, amateurism and nationalism are on the downswing as more individuals try to carve out a livelihood from the super competitive, unfair and crooked world of sports and sports professionals.
The Telegraph was further quoted in that article as saying “No true sportsman wants to see cricketers bought and sold like merchandise and soccer footballers.” I laughed out loud.
I laughed because that’s the case at present in the T20 leagues around the world. Yearly auctions are held that see cricketers bought and sold like merchandise or footballers, and it’s not limited to cricketers. Basketballers, American footballers, baseball players endure the same seemingly free trade actions. This clearly shows how the attitude towards sports, and especially cricket, has evolved. I presume the purists of yesteryear would leap from their graves in protest. However, if we are remiss and forgetful, there are living purists among us, who have been protesting – though ignored – about this regress or decline in the standards of amateurism, sportsmanship, and nationalism due to professionalism in sports.
“I don’t think there is any cricketer who should strike for money now because they are well paid. We have to impart to our young people the importance of playing for your country. Money is a subsidiary of success.”
– Clive Lloyd speaking at the 2015 Annual New Year Lecture in Cape Town, South Africa
Recently, some West Indian cricketers have chosen lucrative offers over nationalistic or regional pride, and you cannot blame them. They have learned from the mistakes of their sporting forefathers. Money has more value than pride in determining their livelihoods and that of their families in today’s world.
Parents today continuously live vicariously through their kids and encourage many of them to take up professions they missed out on. Many kids go on to be the doctors, lawyers, and nurses their parents weren’t. However, many are also being encouraged to become athletes, footballers, and cricketers, and to support their families, including their parents through these careers. With amateurism being threatened at the high school and college level, as student-athletes are barraged with lucrative offers all around, the governing bodies, such as the Inter-Secondary School Sports Association (ISSA) in Jamaica and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the USA, have become officious in their attempts to keep this fleeting fog of amateurism intact.
Are high school and college athletes changing their alma maters for financial reasons? Are they being bought and sold like merchandise? If not, will this be the future? Will sports in high schools and colleges become professionalised in the far future? Will parents continue to let their kids be used to make millions or billions with little return in the end, other than scholastic pride and empty pockets? The NCAA is being forced to change. Will ISSA be so compelled soon?
In closing, I foresee a paradoxical and paradigmatic shift in the far or near futurity. If the present ISSA axioms continue, semi-professional leagues could be established parallel to ISSA-run sports competitions that could entice high school student-athletes participation at the peril of ISSA-run competitions. Let’s see if this present view or foresight held by me is considered boorish or a pile of officiousness. Or, will it be considered propitious and likely roots of the past that will spring forth a tree in the future. ISSA, are you prepared for the future?
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
This blog article was also published in the “Lies & Statistics” column in the Western Mirror on September 28, 2015.