Sunday, August 27, 2006


Drugs, greed, cheating and violence scar big time sport.
The vicious assault by the Manchester City defender Ben Thatcher which put Portsmouth’s Pedro Mendes in hospital is a symptom of how bad it’s got. Had it happened anywhere but the football pitch, the police would have charged him by now.
The crucifixion of the Australian cricket umpire Darrell Hair is violence of a different order but just as shaming.
By all accounts, Hair is a decent, honourable man who tells it like it is and at fifty-three grew up in the days when the umpire’s word was law — before schmoozing and political correctness became more important than being able to do your job.
Though there may be a question of honour in Pakistan, the suggestion racism may have played a part in Hair’s decision that the team had tampered with the ball is one of the worst aspects of the entire affair.
Before that dark night of the soul which led him to demand $500,000, he could never have imagined the circumstances which led him to send an email with his terms for resignation from the elite group of umpires.
By today’s standards of 24-hour CCTV surveillance, the steady leak of private papers and hacking into phones and computers, he may seem naïve to have thought that the email’s contents would remain confidential.
Until England retrieved the Ashes from Australia last year, cricket had languished for decades on village greens and half-empty county grounds. One day and twenty-20 matches had lifted interest slightly. But five day Test Matches were considered boring and only for the over 50s — so tedious the BBC did not tender for the forthcoming series in Australia which was snapped up by Sky Sport.
The power, glory and publicity all belonged to football.
Then last summer England beat Australia and cricket suddenly became fashionable and sexy.
As men like Andrew Flintoff wiped the likes of David Beckham off front and back pages, the men in suits at Lords woke up to find their players were celebrities now.
But the ICC’s failure to deal quickly with the ball tampering matter and charge that the Pakistan captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, has brought the game into disrepute, is evidence of the cricketing hierarchy’s inability to handle both the politics of international sport and the media game which accompanies celebrity.
Money and sponsorship could be lost if Pakistan cancelled the rest of the tour and bad publicity might result if Hair’s email was leaked at a later stage. So, under the shoddy cover of decrepit honesty, they made a pre-emptive strike, leaving the unfortunate man facing an uncertain future — and themselves with a ongoing damage control problem which is doing a very great deal to bring the game into disrepute.
Cricket is no longer the pleasant summer game with pernickety rules Hair and spectators have loved and to which he has devoted his working life.
Now it’s about power, money and media manipulation.
‘It’s not cricket’ used to mean that something was not fair.
The ICC’s handling of the Darrell Hair affair has banished the phrase from the popular lexicon for ever.

Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2006. All Rights Reserved