Sport tends to mirror the best, and the worst of real life and that is possibly its greatest attraction. Sure there’s the drama, the comebacks, the domination, the fierce contests between rivals – but I think sports is at its greatest and most dire, when it reflects who we are a human beings.
One story that grabbed my attention in the past two weeks, and aptly illustrates my point – at both ends of the spectrum. Argentinean footballer, Emiliano Sala, was missing, and later found killed, when a plane he was on crashed into the sea close to the Channel Islands. Sala and pilot, Dave Ibbotson, were flying to Cardiff, so Sala could begin his time at his new club, Cardiff – who had paid a fee of £15 million to his old club, Nantes, in France.
“That’s what’s to be expected when things like this occur, and generally sports teams do an amazing job of honouring those who lose their lives.”
In the time before the plane and Sala’s body was located, a number of professional footballers – both past and present -contributed substantial amounts of money to finance a private search for the plane, and the footballer. Clubs in England and in France honoured the player in various heartfelt ways. Nantes’ players wore kits with Sala’s name emblazoned across their backs at a home game, and poignantly, the game was stopped at the ninth minute (9 was his playing number), so that players, coaching staff, and fans could honour the missing player. Cardiff fans created a memorial outside the club’s ground and thousands of bouquets of flowers were laid before it. Minutes of silence or applause were held at grounds across Europe before games commenced.
“The game is the same as it ever was, but the money is obscene.”
All in all, beautiful gestures to honour a young footballer whose life was cut tragically short. That’s what’s to be expected when things like this occur, and generally sports teams do an amazing job of honouring those who lose their lives. All of this was before Sala’s body was recovered from the wreck of the plane and his identity confirmed.
Yet while he was still missing, his former club did something that illustrates one of the more mercenary traits of sport. I grew up in the days of the first million pound player, when footballers weren’t paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a week, and television did not dictate schedules. Football today is dominated by money and television. The game is the same as it ever was, but the money is obscene. Top tier players can be transferred now at prices approaching £100 million, with their agents pocketing a hefty percentage. Personally, I think the money is a huge distraction but it seems there is no way of getting away from it.
“It wasn’t only a PR disaster, it was an illustration of a heartless and thoughtless move that made their missing player little more than amount of money that they were keen to recoup as quickly as possible.”
Nantes contacted Sala’s new club, Cardiff and demanded the first installment of the £15 transfer fee and threatened legal action if it was not paid within a certain time frame. It wasn’t only a PR disaster, it was an illustration of a heartless and thoughtless move that made their missing player little more than amount of money that they were keen to recoup as quickly as possible. The Guardian reported that, “Nantes emailed Cardiff . . . in relation to the payment terms and the Welsh club’s failure to transfer the first of three installments. They then followed up that message five days later with a more direct demand that referenced possible legal action.”
” . . . the whole exchange reeked of the domination of commerce in the game and made Nantes officials look cheap and mercenary.”
Cardiff players and staff had met with Sala – he was to be a member of their team and was a very welcome acquisition to the club. Receiving that sort of communication was a further kick in the teeth. Although it transpired that the club had insurance for Sala and would not be out of pocket, the whole exchange reeked of the domination of commerce in the game and made Nantes officials look cheap and mercenary. There was nothing gained by making threats when the issue would have been dealt with professionally and appropriately, to the mutual satisfaction of both clubs, at the correct time.
All in all the whole sage presented the best of human nature, as well as the worst. Though it would be difficult to beat he abject idiocy and amorality of the few Southampton fans who mocked the player’s death at a game against Cardiff by making airplane gestures. Luckily the game has advanced to a place where ‘fans’ of that calibre were subsequently given life time bans from Southampton’s ground.
To read the full article in The Guardian – go here.