Pride of country must prevail over the dollar

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 April, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 April, 1996, 12:00am

Money and sport do mix. Everyone knows this. Even rugby union, which was the sole flag-bearer of amateurism at the highest level, gave in to the dictates of professionalism soon after the World Cup last year in South Africa.

Rugby was once the lone bulwark against all that was materialistic in the world of sport - where money is king, and power is counted in dollars and cents. The tide of professionalism eventually submerged rugby union's idealism and in many ways it was the way to go.

After all, in recent times rugby had been paying only lip-service to the ideal that the game was played simply for the love of it. Money mattered and with the increasing demands on the players, in both time and commitment, it was inevitable that rugby would fall into line too.

But let's hope that the game, despite it's professional standards today, will not follow the path of a sport like tennis where individual glory takes precedence over playing for flag and country.

Events in the past week have brought this subject to mind. The United States lost a World Group quarter-final Davis Cup tie to the Czech Republic over Easter weekend. The Americans - the most powerful tennis nation in the world - went to Prague without any of their leading players.

Two of them, Pete Sampras and Michael Chang, did not commit themselves to the Davis Cup because their schedules did not fit with that of playing for their country. They came to Hong Kong to vie for a winner's purse of HK$330,000 and to boost their world rankings.

Is this personal aggrandisement or not? Sampras and Chang are amongst the world's top four players, but they still felt that they could not spare the time to be in Prague carrying the flag.

In a period during which the American men have consistently won Grand Slams, they have been able to win the Davis Cup only once in the four-year span between 1993 and 1996.

This alone speaks volumes for their commitment.

Frustrated American Davis Cup captain Tom Gullikson was quoted in the New York Times after the team's disappointing 3-2 loss to the Czechs as saying: 'Certainly, it could have been a different result if one of the top four had played.' Gullikson added: 'Every player has to kind of look at himself in the mirror and try to sort out what his priorities are. All the players know where the Davis Cup weeks are. It's no mystery where they fit. To use their schedule as a reason not to play is, I would say, questionable.' Sampras, Chang, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier will no doubt feel that their personal agendas were important to them. How the American public feel, we will never be fully sure. Thankfully, rugby is a team game and the individualistic nature of tennis will never be felt in the same way, although in recent times, individuals have been making a huge impression.

But it is unlikely that the Jonah Lomu's of this world will ever go to the lengths of their tennis counterparts. Representing your country is what motivates a rugby player.

Money matters today. But not so much that an athlete should be governed by his or her well-being. Sacrifices must be made at times. That is what sport is all about.