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The enormity of sport

8 July 2013

peacockOn Radio 4 this morning, the BBC’s sports correspondent congratulated Andy Murray on the “enormity” of his achievement (he won Wimbledon yesterday, in case you didn’t already know). I appear to have been the only person in Britain hoping that his opponent Novak Đoković would secure a break of serve in the third set to take this into a fourth, and possibly fifth decider. That was partly because I tend to warm more to people who in their spare time read Pushkin rather than watch James Bond movies. No one seemed to take exception to the extraordinary level of xenophobia displayed by the crowd: perhaps we should have been prepared in the previous rounds by the BBC’s failure to pronounce foreign competitors’ names correctly, but I’m old fashioned enough to feel embarrassed when our prime minister is caught on camera applauding an unforced error by Murray’s opponent. (But then I don’t suppose Cameron reads much Pushkin either.)

There were stories of tickets changing hands before the match for £85,000. I’m sure those that paid this were happy with the outcome. And no one will begrudge Murray the prize money for having played so well.

But the real story about tennis, and football, motor racing etc., is of the vast amounts of corporate sponsorship these events consume. We are told Murray can now expect contracts worth £15 million a year. That sports sponsorship is coming from companies who feel the need to spend these sums to market their products effectively: not just sportswear manufacturers, but the widest range of consumer products businesses, even banks and oil companies. And like all competition, what starts out as a marketing edge becomes a survival strategy as evolutionarily inefficient as peacocks’ tails.

The difference between this enormous expenditure and the black market price of centre court tickets is that I have no choice. Like it or not, all of us, every time we fill our car with petrol, buy a pair of shoes or use our credit card, pay for this.

Not of course if we borrow a volume of Pushkin from the library:

Я понять тебя хочу,
Смысла я в тебе ищу….

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