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Ken Borland


More & more matches & players expected to just avail themselves

Posted on May 20, 2022 by Ken

Sport being big business these days, it stands to reason that administrators believe that the more content they can provide in terms of matches, the better it is for the game and the players just need to avail themselves of these increased opportunities.

But what administrators forget, as their eyes are distracted by shiny piles of cash, is that they are in the entertainment business and quality of performance is more important to the consumer than quantity. As more and more sport is played, we see more and more jaded athletes, especially in these tough days of Covid restrictions, unable to reach their previous heights.

As former Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said this week: “For too long administrators have thought that more is more, but actually less is more. That way you get a high-quality product that people look forward to and don’t want to miss out on watching. The players are the main assets of the game and we have to make sure they are looked after.”

While I would not go as far as former Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula – that’s actually probably a good rule for life – in describing our sports stars as soldiers doing battle for South Africa, there is no doubt they are still representing our country and often providing great joy to a land that has known more misery than most in recent years.

Form is a fickle thing at the best of times – I was chatting to a former Proteas batsman recently and he told me of the time he came off a great century and then in his next innings he could barely get bat to ball – but a relentless schedule of games and travel will eventually wear down even the best.

Just look at former India captain Virat Kohli, who a couple of years ago was trumpeted as the best batsman in the world. And then came Covid with bio-bubbles and severe restrictions added to the grind of playing and captaining in all three formats for the richest and most scrutinised team on the planet.

Little wonder then that Kohli has now gone 100 innings across formats without scoring a century and his former India coach, Ravi Shastri, is in no doubt that too much cricket is to blame.

Shastri was quoted this week as calling Kohli “overcooked” and he implored Indian cricket to have the empathy to give their star player six months away from the game otherwise he will end up with “a fried brain”.

Amongst the fans, too, there is an air of indifference to the wellbeing of our sports stars, with the expectation being that they must bring their A-game every time they compete. The old chestnut of “I pitch up to the office every day and give my best otherwise I’ll be fired” is often heard. But not many of us have jobs that require intense physical training every week and then an opposition hellbent on making sure you cannot do your job.

This is not, however, a call for sponsors and equity partners in sport to be sent packing like witches on their broomsticks.

Professional sport needs money to flourish and the best-performing teams are more often than not those with the deepest pockets. But there needs to be a balance between commercial demands and player welfare.

The best way to handle that balancing act is probably by ensuring there is greater depth in playing squads.

I know fielding second-string outfits does not fly well with fans, but if a team has sufficient depth and has looked after their pipeline properly, then rotating players should ensure improved performance and give exposure to potential new heroes.

United Rugby Championship frontrunners Leinster are a club that does this very well, and I look forward to seeing how they do, without 10 first-choice players, against the Sharks in Durban on Saturday night.

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