I was watching television the other night and was jolted from the commentary, which incidentally was on the World Athletics Championships in Paris, by a series of rather ill-timed commercial interruptions. It was really amazing how one minute I'd be totally engrossed by the one hundred metres and all the nonsense of the false start rulings and such and then, just as I was getting quite into the whole thing, bang! On comes some totally incongruous advert about goodness knows what, cutting right across the commentator in mid-sentence. Real class and so respectful of the athletes' years of dedication! And, as this was repeated throughout the night, I came to realize that "it's not about the sport, stupid" it's about the money and the television revenues. The sport is just something that goes in between the ads.
Anyway that's what started me off thinking over the whole question of how certain sports become absolutely essential, and the staple diet for whole countries. For example, you could be showing the Stanley Cup in Brazil and I doubt they'd raise their eyes from their game of chequers, but if that were soccer, they'd be glued to the set. Now, why is that? Is it because all the folks down there are born with a predestined disposition in favour of soccer, or is it that the media have created a national fervour for that particular sport? Or is it that a certain familiarity with a particular sport is like a safe sanctuary for certain reporters? They sort-of know the jargon for hockey or football and so, from then on, it gets shoved up front in any piece they do regardless of what sport we're talking about.
I mean it seems that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Brian Williams just can't get through a broadcast without relating some of the action to hockey (or football): he'll jump in with the most banal comparisons, trying to suggest that there are parallels to be drawn between the pole vault in athletics and the quarterback's long bomb downfield for touchdown in football.
Brian, what are you talking about!?!
Anyway this whole train of thought brought me to the coverage of the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, and how that didn't manage to rank better than an 11:30 pm slot on the goggle box. Shoved in after the news, when everyone was basically on their way to bed, and really a token presentation of the day's events for the die-hard amateur sports fan. Bingo, there is the operative and all important word "Amateur", no limo to and from the venue, no fat endorsement cheques coming through the mail and, let's be honest here, what does Wayne Gretzky and his dad care about a sale of Ford cars!? C'mon if you are paid in the millions to stuff wads of chewing tobacco into your mouth and scratch occasionally, then you're hot, but if you have to go it alone with subsistence funding and take on the world competition without a whole team behind you, then probably you are an amateur athlete, and boy you better watch out that you don't let the country down at the Olympics or they'll want that money back!
Gordon Black is a world-ranked Master swimmer and Canadian national record holder. A member of the British swim team in the late '60s, after thirty years out of the pool, last year Gordon returned to competitive swimming in the Masters forum. He offers an online weight loss, fitness and motivational coaching service through his web site www.gordonblack.com where his competitive comeback is chronicled. Gordon is currently working on a book based on his own weight management and fitness system - publisher's enquiries welcome!