Friday, 18 December 2009

Open competition is the only real competition

Hmm, so rugby commentators want to improve the spectacle of the game by integrating the English and Celtic leagues.

Well, yeah, I can see that working for about five seconds before they get bored again and say it would be better if the southern hemisphere teams played week-in, week-out against the northern hemisphere.

This is where I stop supporting lesser games like cricket and rugby. There is a completely undemocratic spirit in wanting to watch only the very best all the time.

It completely suffocates the development of the game, and depending on the authoritarian dictates and prescriptions of an approved coach or board of selectors creates an unsafe burden of responsibility on individual ability and subjective judgement which cannot be relied upon.

Like how does anyone judge anyway?

For example Martin Johnson had no previous coaching experience before he was appointed to lead the national rugby XV. He may be an inspirational figure of resolution and determination, but he has never shown any indications of being a creative player or imaginative thinker. And the teams he has put on the field play exactly into his personal mould - physically solid and muscular, but a bit wooden and lacking in tries. It is inconcievable he will lead the team to triumph.

Exactly what standards of expectation were placed on the applicants for the job? What were the qualifications? Frankly the board who appointed Johnno are either a bunch of amateurs or worse.

But this isn't about one man or even on group of people. This is about how jealous narrow-minded mentalities lead directly to insurmountable failure.

When I watch sport I want to know that each side is playing on their relative merits so that any division lines drawn up in the fixture list are not completely arbitrary.

I can be sure cup finals are worth watching because the teams are composed of players who've won in through previous rounds - and in the spirit of open competition we can be sure standards of quality are maintained.

So when Rugby or Cricket goes through their regular cycles of trying to draw more focus of attention away from Football they will consistently fail, just as they have consistently failed to do so for longer than it takes for the novelty value to wear off.

'Fixture congestion' is a popular refrain in professional sport, but the discussions which surround how the calendar is compiled are subtly different.

International cricket and rugby is largely a closed shop with the same teams and countries playing each other over and over again. Ashes series may be the pinnacle of an Englishman's career, but there's no guarantee the quality is the zenith of the sport so cheering the side on is more an expression of passive reaction than one of active connection.

But when you look at the performance of Barcelona in taking on Atlante in the Club World Cup, the quality of play (particularly the team play which lead to Messi's goal) is on another level and it is impossible to argue with the quality - it's on full display on the field, not just on the teamsheet...

and don't the crowds know it!

Remember - this is two teams from completely different continents playing in a packed stadium with little heritage for the game which is capable of raising everybody off their seats in a simultaneous gesture of admiration and awe.

Rugby and Cricket need to lead from the football's example, not cast envious eyes over their riches.

Football's success is in broadening the game by being being democratic and meritocratic - enabling more people to participate in meaningful competition and use the results as the objective measure of qualification for more prestigious tournaments.

Qualification to play in football's highest competitions is by an extensive, lengthy and highly rigorous process which is the focus of intense scrutiny and contention.

Qualification to play in the Ashes is by birth (though exceptions can easily be made if your face fits and you're good enough, as Pietersen, Trott and Strauss have found to their benefit).

I don't need to argue which is a better system - just look at any comparative measure.

It shouldn't really be much of a surprise that Rugby and Cricket continues to struggle to gain attention when the administrators are all linked by their old school ties and the institutions remain so strongly infused with conservative ideals and racked by tribal interests - it seems the tendency of the 'old farts' who resisted professionalism in pre-New Labour days has simply regrouped with a new generation to the fore.

My big worry is about a future when old-Etonians are back in charge of decision-making, like they've ever proved themselves on a level playing field.

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