Fat cats, fat cheques and thin logic

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AMONG the more pathetic pleas of mitigation put for- ward on behalf of Cedric Brown's self-aggrandisement (pounds 475-grandisement to be exact) is that if he was a leading figure in the world of sport his remuneration would not have been the subject of so volcanic a national outcry. Supporters of the chief executive of British Gas managed to convince the bulk of shareholders that his 75 per cent pay raise was justified but they would be hard pushed to establish any phoney parallel with big earners on the sporting scene.

Brown, and the many other industrial leaders attempting to justify the spring-heeled upward leaps recently taken by their salaries, may have many just claims to their enhanced wages but it hardly flatters their case for sport to be classed as a comparable activity in order to excuse their sudden arrival in the deep clover.

There are grounds for admitting, however reluctantly, that sport has made a significant contribution towards the sadly prevalent feeling that big players should be paid big money and to hell with the rest. Show business may once have led the way in this respect but it has taken sport to set the modern pattern for the over-generous recompense of the high-fliers.

The trouble is that there is an aspect of sports earning that cannot be easily replicated in other walks of life - most of the fortunes assembled in sport are gained not only the hard way but in a highly visible and impressive manner. It so happens that the earning capacities of many sportspeople have been expanding at the same rate as New Zealand wingers simply because of television and, again because of television, we've become accustomed to examining every speck of the effort and skill which carries them into the ranks of mega-earners.

We've ceased to react to gigantic sums of money being pocketed in sport. This is mainly because we appreciate the achievements that earn them and partly because we've learned to accept that some sports have more money swilling about than they know what to do with.

Take Wimbledon as an example. The men's champion this year will get a cheque for pounds 365,000. Not too long ago such a sum would have raised the nation's blood-pressure by several notches, people would have been vomiting on the streets and the fuss about Cedric Brown - who takes 40 weeks to earn that sort of money - would have paled in comparison. Some may have been churlish enough to comment that the 16 teams competing in the slightly more demanding rigours of the Rugby World Cup won't earn that much between them but when the figure was announced in April it hit the country with the impact of a stray snowflake.

We've become accustomed to the costs of this summer orgy, and to the fact that of the total prize money of pounds 6m all but a few quid will have left Britain 12 hours after the final. But, like it or not, those are the facts and the millions watching on television will consider they've had their money's worth.

The same applies to golf. Colin Montgomerie has yet to win a major championship but was top of the European money list last year with just under pounds 1m. Bernhard Langer, who won pounds 150,000 at Wentworth last weekend, has career earnings well over pounds 4m while Nick Faldo's stint in the US this year is over the pounds 5m mark. But no one with the slightest knowledge of golf would begrudge them these returns from a game that demands the utmost in concentration and dedication.

Top golfers, like the leading players in tennis and other sports, have also helped to boost the demand for equipment and clothing which has created many jobs. This is in contrast to many top executives in the privatised industries who have found it necessary to shed thousands of employees.

How can our captains of industry ascend from their low place in public esteem and take their places in the ranks of the highly respected? Now that they are being more lavishly rewarded than at any time in history, it would be comforting if they too could provide us with a more public exhibition of their skills so we could admire them more. This is not easy for them.

British Gas, for instance, compete in a tournament consisting of one entry, so Cedric Brown's many qualities are not clearly discernible. The pressures and demands attendant on him are not easily weighed against those through which the Wimbledon champion must wade or those to be overcome by next month's Open golf champion or, to bring in a non-participant, those awaiting the new manager of Arsenal, whose long-term prospects are more likely to be measured in sack options than share options.

Brown and his fellow directors did at least face their critics last week in a sporting setting, the London Arena. Their AGM attracted a record crowd of 5,000 angry shareholders who vented their considerable condemnation of the boardroom paypackets. As manager of Arsenal, he would have to answer to a crowd 10 times that size every two weeks instead of every year.

This is the downside of embarking on the big-bucks trail. Once you take the money, you have to keep producing the goods. Sports stars have to prove continually how good they are. Ruud Gullit, one of the world's most successful footballers, will earn every penny of the pounds 3m he is expected to receive from Chelsea over the next two years or he'll hear all about it from the Stamford Bridge shareholders. And when they return from South Africa, the rugby union players of the British Isles will be bracing themselves for total professionalism. Rugby fans have waited a century for the chance to call them a bunch of overpaid layabouts.

As any successful sportsman would tell Cedric Brown and his ilk, persuading the public to smile sweetly when you start raking in their dough takes extra-special effort.

GREG DYKE'S Channel 4 programme Fair Game concluded its run on Thursday after a short but snappy season which will always be remembered for sparking off the old farts controversy. Television should do more of this. It is a medium devoted to the picture but, when it comes to sport, it's good to talk.

His last subject was about televised sport which, as a former sports head of ITV, he knows something about. Some illuminating discussions took place with previous colleagues and rivals in which it was agreed that BBC and ITV "absolutely shafted" football in their early dealings with the game.

The clear message to the various sports eyeing a rich future from the growth of subscription services is to stay in charge of your game. Getting absolutely shafted is not going to be difficult.

ONE of the many delights of watching or listening to the Rugby World Cup is to hear the views of former players. I heard the Radio 5 commentary of the New Zealand v Ireland game last weekend when the former Irish forward Fergus Slattery was giving his comments.

When the New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick was being led off the field injured, the commentator explained: "I think he's broken his nose."

"No", interjected Slattery helpfully. "I think someone broke it for him."