Television will eventually be the death of sport
The word ‘sport’ covers a multitude of activities, ranging from athletics to the ‘field’ sports, hunting, shooting and fishing, from rowing to equestrian events, from boxing to hockey and soccer. To assert that TV will kill these off is obvious nonsense. With or without TV, the instinct to pursue these activities will remain. Sport enhances health, builds muscle, satisfies the competitive instinct, encourages fair play, and creates friendships and excellent social contacts among those who share sporting interests. Since Greek and Roman times, when the Olympics were founded, and took place, as today, at four-yearly intervals, sport in some shape or form has always been a leisure occupation, and it will certainly take more than the ‘down’-side of television to kill it off. we will consider that ‘down’-side in a moment.
First, the benefits of television coverage should be appreciated. It is undeniable that televised sport offers first-class entertainment to those who are interested. The watcher watches in comfort, out of the rain and the cold. It is also undeniable that some sports, e.g. golf, come across far better on TV than they possibly can to the spectator on the spot. The cameras keep up with the ball in it’s full arc, underlining the outstanding prowess of the top players. Team games can also be watched in comfort, and again with a comprehensive view of the whole pitch. The zoom-lens gives close-ups from many angles, and the immediate play-back facility shows the top-class players’ abilities, the fouls, both accidental and ‘professional’, and the refereeing standards. All brilliantly exposed. Sponsorship provides crucial funds to sports teams at all levels, whether their matches are televised or not. Sponsors fund teams in proportion to television coverage and ground attendance. So improvements to grounds and spectator facilities are made possible, and money is provided of the purchase of star players. Finally, to be able to watch the top players perform with apparently effortless brilliance must encourage young people to go out and try to do likewise. Today, sponsorship provides money for the rich rewards available to stars, and this offers an added incentive to young hopefuls.
Of course, televised sport has its drawbacks. Many people believe that ideally all sport should be amateur, the pursuit of physical excellence for its own sake, and with no financial reward. The film ‘Chariots of Fire’ highlighted a brilliant young miler. But as he moved towards Olympic status he too had a trainer ! Was the trainer unpaid ? It is certainly true that television encourages professionalism, even among amateurs. Rugby football in the UK, the amateur game, has been forced into a league system, which leads to star ‘poaching’. It also moves players towards demanding money, particularly when training occupies an increasing amount of unpaid time. Stars, who lose months every year on tours, must, realistically, be repaid. At present, amateurs are indirectly recompensed through giving their names to newspaper articles, by writing and signing books, by endorsements of sports goods and by appearances at functions. Television exposure is behind all this. This is why many people basically disapprove. The line between the pro and the amateur is becoming blurred.
Another criticism is more arguable. It is that many people are becoming sport watchers rather than sport players. There is also the argument that the television has reduced gates at unglamorous matches and events, and this has already led to the sale of many run of the mill clubs, or their liquidation. Moreover, the excitement of the crowd atmosphere is lost in one’s own home. As with the cinema, a visit is preferable to watching on the ‘box’.
Thirdly, there is the old Olympic ideal. This is, partly, to spread international good-will. Today, through satellite television, the Olympics are watched worldwide by untold millions. Does this foster goodwill and fair play, or does it tend to nationalism, a ‘win at all costs’ attitude ? And it may be coincidence, but drug abuse among athletes has grown up alongside television.
The money motivation has been mentioned. It seems not unreasonable for players, whether amateur or professional, to be properly recompensed, but television creates ‘stars’, whether real or bogus, and these people can demand enormous sums, out of all proportion to their contributions and abilities. This ‘hype’ is to be deplored. It does nothing for sport.
So television may be said to do as much harm as good. However, it will never be the ‘death of sport’.