The increasing demands from cricket administrators for more professionalism from players is a perplexing issue. Despite the existence of "professional" player contracts for a number of years, the sport and, more specifically, its
Lets face it, elite sport is all about winning. Players are probably more likely to be successful if they enjoy what they do, but these soft, touchey-feely factors do not figure in the calculations of sponsors and their lackeys, the administrators. But should they?
We witnessed the staggering unfolding of events in Ben Cousins' ordeal to find an AFL club willing to utilise his once-in-a-generation talents. Andrew Symonds finds himself in similar waters. Was Cricket Australia right to expedite a clearly unfit Symonds' return to help its struggling national team and then apply draconian, slave-like contractual restrictions - stipulations to which even the most desperate corporate wunderkid would not agree?
Symonds is a victim of an organisation that has monopolistic powers and a clear disregard for the player's personal welfare, contrary to its many, now disingenuous, previous assertions. After all, Cricket Australia is the only organisation that can sanction and select the Australian cricket team. If he wanted to play international cricket, he had to acquiesce to their every whim. Given the unhealthy and disproportionate balance of power in this situation, it could be reasonably argued that Cricket Australia tried to have its cake and eat it too.
Cricket administrators' insistence on improved off-field player behaviour can be directly linked to sponsors' influence exerted over them. I do not disagree that it is only human nature that anyone stumping up cash for a venture will demand some semblance of quality control. The question that begs is whether those quality control measures should be confined to on-field activities, or whether they should also pervade into players' personal lives?
That Andrew Symonds has a problem with alcohol is probably true. That Andrew Symonds was wrong in going fishing instead of attending a team meeting cannot be refuted. However, do sponsors really suffer when Symonds adds spice to an upcoming encounter by rubbishing an opposition player? Does Adidas or VB lose sales if Symonds has a drink without becoming intoxicated, much less rowdy, on a non-game day?
Professionalism needs a new definition, one that is tenable in a cricketing context. If we accept that cricketers can lose form for no apparent reason and through no fault of their own, yet still remain in the team and keep their professional contracts, why should any authority be allowed to force a player to alter their personal activities to suit the fancies of sponsors who are out to exploit the players from the outset?
Andrew Symonds would have been of infinitely more value to Australian cricket had he been allowed to go about his life on his own terms, with the requisite help for his various personal issues. Success in a team sport depends a lot on enjoying the team environment. Why would anyone in their right mind undermine the non-sporting benefits offered by a team environment, by placing unnecessary controls on only one member of the team?
A player who enjoys his surroundings likely plays better, in-turn attracting more of us spectators to the sport, thereby leading to more brand awareness for the esteemed sponsors. It is high time that sports administrators, particularly cricket administrators, started standing up for the rights of the very people (and these players are merely people, prone to the same inconsistencies afflicting us commoners) that attract the corporate dollars.
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