Left Field: It's all or nothing in the money game
While top-notch squash events get the cold shoulder, cricket bosses in India shun the media - all for a bigger slice of the cash pie
A nonplussed reader wrote in a few days ago asking why we didn't mention a word about England's "historic victory" over India in the second test in Mumbai. It was because our hands were somewhat tied due to the news agencies - Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press and so on - boycotting the series after the Board of Control for Cricket in India barred entry to a couple of photo agencies from covering the action. The BCCI said it would provide its own images.
The deeper reasons might be copyright issues, but telling the media they will be given handouts, doctored according to the whims and fancies of the BCCI, was like waving a red flag to a bull. It was no surprise the wire agencies were united in condemning the move by world cricket's Big Brother and boycotted the series.
The BCCI's bullying tactic was not only limited to barring photographers. Sky TV, which owns the television rights for the tour in Britain, decided not to send its team of commentators after the BCCI demanded £500,000 (HK$6.2 million) for hosting them at the grounds. Sky refused to pay and set up their team, including the likes of former England team captains Nasser Hussain and Mike Atherton, in London, where they commentated on a live television feed.
It is understood the BBC, which owns the rights for the audio coverage in Britain, had also been asked to cough up £50,000. It reached an agreement with the BCCI.
It's all about the money. And the BCCI is not ashamed to flaunt its power, which stems from the millions of cricket-crazy fans on the subcontinent. Some might say the British broadcasters are just getting a taste of their own medicine, but at the end of the day, it is the fans who suffer. It is also readers of this newspaper.
Put this side by side with the tribulations faced by squash as it hungers for Olympic recognition. The plight of this "poor" sport was clearly spelled out by the world's top-ranked player, James Willstrop, last week. The Yorkshireman pointed a finger at the media, especially in England, saying they were only interested in covering sports like soccer, rugby and cricket.
He has a point. The media goes where the money is. The English Premiership is obviously the biggest business. Last season, the top-flight soccer clubs earned total revenue of £2.29 billion from commercial projects (26 per cent), broadcasting rights (50 per cent) and match-day tickets (24 per cent).
There is very little money in squash. The sport does not sell itself to the media, who have eyes only for the mega-rich glamour sports. The Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Open which draws to an end tonight, has total prize money of US$150,000 with the men's winner getting only US$24,000. It is "peanuts" in the words of Willstrop, who blamed the media for failing to do their duty by his sport and give it its fair share of coverage.
"Back home we get very little profile. It is all about football or rugby or cricket. Even though a lot of people play squash, there is hardly a mention in the papers. It is a little better in Asia where they treat all sports alike and at least cover a big squash tournament," said a frustrated Willstrop.
Indeed, cricket and squash are at two ends of the spectrum. On the one hand we have a powerful organisation like the BCCI calling the shots and not caring if a series is covered internationally or not. For these maharajahs of Indian cricket, what matters is the domestic audience and there are hundreds of millions of them. The BCCI can afford to ignore the rest of the world.
In the case of squash, every little exposure is greeted with joy. The craving for recognition is multiplied now the sport is trying to get into the Olympics. Willstrop concedes that more can be done to promote the game, but to do that, he says, money and sponsors are needed. Squash is caught in a catch-22 situation.
On the one hand you have a sport which would do just about anything to get on the radar of the world's media and on the other, you have a sport, or rather a bunch of administrators, who can blithely turn a blind eye to the same media. And in turn, you have the media running after the big sports - although thankfully not in this case in India - and ignoring sports like squash.
It just goes to show that the world revolves around money.