A sad scandal for sports lovers

September 4, 2010
Protest against the Pakistan national cricket team, Lahore, August 30. The real victims in this affair are the millions of Pakis

I have been a fan of many sports for a very long time. I have especially followed the game of cricket for more than 50 years and I have to confess to having spent more time watching, listening and reading about it than almost any other topic.

Occasionally, friends on the left have questioned my enthusiasm for the “imperialist game”. But I have used the example of great Trinidad and Tobago-born Marxist CLR James’ — who worked as a cricket journalist and wrote the classic Marxist account of the sport in his 1963 book Beyond a Boundary — against those who roll their eyes when I talk about the sport.

So for me, the news that the Pakistani cricket team had been bribed to “perform” for the benefit of the bookmakers was like a personal tragedy that caused me no end of dismay.

Yet the truth is that the scandal represents the eruption of real politik into the “utopian space” of sport and it sickened millions of us. I was especially saddened to learn that the 18-year-old Pakistani rising star Mohammed Amir was one of those caught up in the net of corruption.

I consider myself far from naive when it comes to cricket matters, but I have to admit I was extremely slow to awaken to the real reason the Pakistan team kept dropping all those catches. They also appear to have shared the burden of catch dropping around, but the wicket keeper Kamran Akmal seems to have been the most willing volunteer.

Talk about loss of innocence.

The sad truth for sport mad people is that the sports we love take place within capitalism and nothing is sacred to that system. We may desperately try to forget that truth, but scandals such as the current one force us to recognise that there is nothing capitalism wont exploit, commodify and pervert.

Karl Marx had it right when he said in volume 1 of ,em>Capital: “If money, according to Augier, ‘comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek’, capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”

Sport represents only a dream of utopia and we will only get the real thing when we overthrow capitalism.

On a political level, an article in the London Times argued that the cheating scandal must not be allowed to lead to Pakistan’s expulsion from the world cricket community, as this would drive the country further into the hands of Islamic extremists. Cricket, it seems, binds Pakistan to the West.

The real victims in this affair are the millions of Pakistanis, especially those in England, who invested emotionally in the team, only to be betrayed. No wonder they pelted the team bus with tomatoes. Nor is it a wonder that one father bought eggs for his son to throw at his former idols.

But we should be wary of knee jerk reactions. Cricket officials will no doubt scramble to make sacrificial victims out of the players. Amir’s youth and talent might just save him. However, the axe will fall on someone and everyone will wring their hands and refuse to acknowledge the central place corruption occupies in capitalism.
The Pakistani players live in a country where President Asif Ali Zardari is known as “Mr 10%” — in reference to the amount of money he creams off from all development and major infrastructure projects.

Is it any wonder with so much corruption among the elites that a young man such as Amir, from a village where there is no electricity, would bowl no-balls for money?

In Australia, we should resist the inclination to somehow say that this could not happen here. We live in a country where the mining industry bosses bribe politicians and change governments. — and get described as “miners”, though they have never lifted a pick or a shovel in their lives.

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