Angus Fraser: Money talks, but the heart just won't listen
Friday 31 October 2008
The furore caused by Saturday's Twenty20 for $20m cricket match, between Sir Allen Stanford's Superstar XI and England, has thankfully proved money does not guarantee happiness in sport. This did not appear to be the case when he unveiled a Perspex carton containing a cool $20m in crisp notes at Lord's four months ago.
England's players, blessed with the chance of earning $1m (£608,000) for three-and-a-half hours' work, could not believe their luck. Fawning officials from the England and Wales Cricket Board seemed smug about the arrangement too, greeting Stanford at Lord's as though he was the Messiah. The board believed its association with the Texan billionaire would show the cricketing world it could compete with the moneybags Indian Premier League. It might also buy them the West Indies Cricket Board's vote at the International Cricket Council table too.
On the eve of cricket's richest game, England's players and the ECB now have a somewhat different view of the Stanford Super Series and tomorrow's showpiece match. Neither party has enjoyed its week in the Caribbean. Pietersen, the England captain, is unhappy that the media keep asking him and his players about the money. The England captain says he is no longer interested in the lucre; all he wants is for the whole unedifying experience to come to an end.
Sorry Kevin, but money is the sole reason for the game taking place. Were it not for the $20m, the event would be even more irrelevant than it already is, and nobody, including yourself, would be there.
The ECB are less than pleased too. The Super Series, and the negative coverage it has generated, has been a public relations disaster for its chairman Giles Clarke and chief executive David Collier. Images of the pair toadying over Stanford as he emerged from his helicopter are likely to be removed from ECB's offices forever.
That ECB officials and England players did not expect the event to raise such reaction smacks of extreme naivety. The ECB may have underestimated the size of Stanford's ego and his behaviour – cuddling up to a couple of England WAGs and walking into the England dressing room at will – may have been less than exemplary but he is not the main reason why so much criticism has been aired.
No, the real reason why most people are unimpressed with the event is because Saturday's match flies in the face of what sport is all about. National teams should not be for hire either.
We are all aware sport needs money to survive but the last week has shown it should not survive to make money. Financial prosperity should always be a by-product of success on the field. It is not and should never be the sole reason why sporting events are organised.
Supporting or playing for a team is about dreaming. As a youngster I did not want to play cricket to earn money, I played the sport because I enjoyed it immensely. I dreamt of playing for England and wearing the three lions and a crown on my chest. I wanted to win for my country and take crucial wickets so that it was proud of me.
I was extremely fortunate to make a career out of playing cricket but I never ran up to bowl worrying about the financial repercussions of failing to get it right. The joy of winning and the distress of losing were the emotions that made me want to do my best for myself and my teammates.
Sporting teams enter tournaments to play matches and become successful by winning trophies for the country, city or region they represent and the fans who passionately follow them. When Aaron Lennon scored to earn Tottenham their sensational 4-4 draw against Arsenal on Wednesday, the supporters of both sides were not interested in the money that the result made or cost their team or players. Money could not buy the joy felt by Tottenham fans as they made their way home that night.
Stanford's match strips away such romance, such unbridled innocent joy. It leaves you cold. Sir Allen may enjoy watching players sweat and beat themselves up over a $20m purse but there will be few with a genuine love for the game, and sport in general, who will share such macabre emotions.
It is to be hoped that this experience will put cricket off chasing money at any cost. It is why the much-vaunted franchise set-up leaves so many people cold. If county cricket was franchised, being owned by wealthy egotistical businessmen, the domestic game could potentially have 18 Stanfords fighting for the limelight. What a frightening thought that is.
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