Friday, April 24, 2009

The Hypocrisy of the Hit-and-Giggle

And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With old odd ends, stol’n forth of holy writ;
And seem a saint,
when most I play the devil.
- Richard III

SkySports News reports that IPL Chairman Lalit Modi has warned Bangalore Royal Challengers’ skipper Kevin Pietersen about his on-field “dissent” in Monday’s game against the Chennai Super Kings. The following from Modi is worth quoting in its entirety:

“Every incident in the DLF Indian Premier League is being closely monitored and appropriate action being dispensed with almost immediately. We have a zero-tolerance policy on player indiscipline and will take all necessary steps to ensure that the game is played in the true spirit of cricket. As I have said earlier, cricketers need to realise and quickly that they are huge role models for an entire generation of youth and it is crucial for youngsters all over the world to learn straight away the values of this great game and the spirit in which it should be played. The eyes of the world are on the DLF Indian Premier League and we want to see cricket, and the spirit of cricket, at its best.”

Modi is right about one thing. Dissent should not be tolerated. But what are more interesting are his claims about 20/20 cricket more generally. Some might argue that the IPL is the last place phrases like “the true spirit of cricket” and “the spirit of cricket at its best” should be thrown about. Modi is, after all, the Godfather of a shamelessly mercenary economic operation, and here he is, speaking about the true spirit of a game the original version of which looks nothing like the hit-and-giggle circus he has helped sire.

20/20 cricket is a coin-toss. The varied intricacies of test cricket are absent: a batsman does not need to concentrate for hours, contend with a changing pitch, worry about short balls etc. “Just throw the bat at it, mate, and hope you come off.” Captains worry about containment, and only containment. Bowlers…well, if they go for under eight per over, they get a pat on the back. And that’s just the game itself. What of the financial incentives offered to players who might well prefer to play 20/20 as a career, rather than sign less lucrative contracts with their counties/provinces/countries? What about the possible dilution of the standard of international test cricket because of this and other economic policies, like Kolpak? My colleague James Hutter presented a paper citing these concerns at the recent British Philosophy of Sport Conference in Dundee, where much of the subsequent discussion focused on whether 20/20 was indeed "cricket" or not. Comparing the regulative rules of the two forms of cricket is, I think, helpful, but it does not address the fundamental concerns James and I have with the impact 20/20 is having on the value of international test cricket and indeed, cricket itself. Apparently there is now going to be an American Premier League too. Can you imagine any more of a blatant money-making exercise than marketing hit-and-giggle to a country that knows next-to-nothing about cricket and everything about quick-fix entertainment? (I mean no offense here, but America must answer for the WWE)

But then, this is what cricket is becoming: a fix; a hit. A colourful syringe full of big-hitting, DJ’s, and dancing girls. In an effort to compete with other high-profile money-makers, the Trustees (sic) staffing the Boards of Governors everywhere - these accountants and businessmen – have become indiscriminate street-corner hustlers, cutting their product with hollow and addictive chemicals. The consumer? A drunken clubber in a hard-hat. Now, this is all well and good: people are entertained, money is made, fun is had by all. But it’s not cricket. Which means, Mr Modi, that you cannot sit on your high horse, counting your money and, to use an apt everyday expression, talking shit. A two-dollar whore dressed like a vestal virgin is still a two-dollar whore, and I would hazard the guess that even said two-dollar whore would not try to convince everyone of her chastity. Pietersen should not have shown dissent. But Modi cannot make grandiose claims about the “spirit of a great game”, when he is one of the architects of its destruction. I wonder what baseball or basketball fans would think if their sports were shortened to a two-inning home-run competition or a free-throw and slum-dunk exhibition. What would football fans think if every play had to be a "hail mary" (if that is the term) touchdown attempt? They probably wouldn't like it much. Especially if the powers that be started admonishing players to "preserve the spirit of their great game".


Griff said...

The WWE is, indeed, tragic. Of course, whether or not it can really be called "sport" is, I think, highly controversial. I would just call it a kind of poor theatrical entertainment. And given that we have Britain to thank for reality television, I think we're about even. ;-)

Now, as to "quick-fix entertainment" (which I think pervades western culture in general, not just America): this is a problem that faces baseball as well as cricket. The money upstairs wants more home runs and more excitement. They want to shorten the game and make it as chock-full of hits and runs as possible. As someone who thinks the most exciting game is a low-scoring pitcher's duel, I find this incredibly frustrating. It's also a little counterintuitive, given that MLB supposedly wants to prevent players from taking performance-enhancing drugs. There's also a disgusting amount of obnoxious advertising that distracts from the game itself, whether one be at the stadium or watching on tv. I find the direction that baseball is going highly problematic.

But so much for the rant. I have a more philosophical question that I have thought a lot about lately: Is there such a thing as "the true spirit" or "true nature" of a sport? I mean, there are constitutive rules, but even some of these change as the game evolves. Is this kind of a "loosy-goosy" concept that so-called purists (like myself) use, or does it refer to something more metaphysically robust? I'd be interested in hearing some thoughts on this.

Carl Thomen said...

2 important points here Griff...

(1) If you look at the website, WWE has its own section. Rightly or wrongly, it simply gets lumped in with sport. Joao would say there is no competitive perception when whoever watches that crap watches it, and he would be right. Therefore, it is at best an entertainment. McMahon and co. do state this (they call it "sports entertainment") but they still market it like competitive sport. I should just ignore it, and laugh at it...but it really winds me up.

(2) I am SOUTH AFRICAN, not British. So no, we are not even, are we? :-)

A short answer to your philosophical question off the tope of my head: yes, for some sports, anyway. I think there is a "soul" in surfing, or in the Samba culture of Brazilian football, or in capoeira; something larger than the movements performed and the constitutive rules. Not sure about baseball though ;-)

Griff said...

Well, you go to school in Britain, no? Given that it's your current place of residence, I felt the remark was legit. Of course, if you don't identify at all with Britain, then you need not be insulted and we're not even and I humbly apologize for the WWE, McDonalds, George W. Bush, and Jerry Springer. ;-)

I'm also not sure what the true nature of baseball would be, if by that phrase we mean something more than "the culture of baseball" or something kind of new-agey and metaphysically suspect. The same would go for cricket. Additionally, I'm not sure what you mean by the "soul" of, e.g., surfing. Necessary and sufficient conditions, please? *jk*

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