Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bring Back the Purity in Sport, Our Children Will Thank Us

By: Kevin Giordano
SMTSU President

In its purest form, sport is about recreation, exercise, and enjoyment.  The beauty of sport is that it is inclusive and friendly.  We can all participate in sport and one only generally needs a small amount of equipment to do so.

Sport is also universal language in itself.  Just roll out a soccer ball between an American, an Iraqi, two Brazilians, an Italian, and a Frenchman.  Sure, there may be a lot of diving done by the Italian and head butts to the chest from the Frenchman, but the ball will do the talking.

All joking aside, sport is essentially about individuals coming together for enjoyment.  This is why, as a society, we push and encourage our youth to participate in sport.  Its teachings prepare younger generations for the real-world through physical, emotional, social, and physiological development.
 
However, when you combine sport with money and sprinkle in a dash of politics, you create the massive beast that is the sports industry.
 
The sports industry, like any other, is a business.  At the end of the day, it’s about the bottom line.   To quote Dana D’Angelo, Clinical Professor at Drexel University’s Lebow College of Business and one of my all-time favorite professors, “Cash is king!”  In business, the almighty dollar does the talking.

Furthermore, when you mix the purity and innocence of sport with business, you inevitably create a dangerous environment, which fosters greed.  This often leads to bitter conflict and is why sports news in media outlets is typically driven by money and greed.
 
Don’t believe me? Consider the hot-button issue right now in football.  The NFL and NFLPA are at an impasse over negotiating a new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement).  As of this very second, they are still very far apart from a deal.  The league and owners want an expanded schedule for revenue generation purposes.  As of now, the NFLPA has little too no medical coverage from the league to cover the health expenses of retired players.  Why would they agree to expand the regular season by two games, putting players at further risk of injury, when there is little medical coverage in place?  Granted, that’s also only one of the issues needing to be ironed out between both parties.

Shifting gears, there is another major scuffle going on right now and I am willing to bet it has flown under your radar.  The Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and the Canadian women’s national soccer team are at arms.  This is a bitter dispute and  is starting to get interesting.   The only thing missing in this standoff is the voice of Michael Buffer proclaiming, “Let’s get ready to rummbbbleeee!”

In all seriousness, this is a major issue.  Essentially, the coach of the Canadian women’s team, who has led them to the number 9 spot in the latest FIFA World Rankings, announced she will resign after the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany, set to be held this summer.  Her name is Carolina Morace, an accomplished Italian player in her day, and she is one of the most respected coaches in the women’s game.  She cited a difference in opinion on the future of the Canadian women’s soccer program with the CSA as her reason behind choosing to leave following the tournament.

Not a huge surprise, coaches leave all the time, right?  Wrong. The players would have none of it.  Days after Morace’s announcement, the Canadian players, led by captain and elite striker Christine Sinclair, alerted the press of their intention to boycott.  Sinclair noted the decision among players was unanimous.  The players have agreed to train, but will not play in any matches until Morace is made happy and the players are better compensated by the CSA.  This also means the players are refusing to participate in the Women’s World Cup this summer.

Whoa, yeah, they went there.  Additionally, the Canadian women’s team is ranked number 9 in the world, according to the latest FIFA rankings.  Their pay and program funding is minimal at best.  The Canadian men’s team is not even ranked within the top 75 in the world.  Their compensation is significantly greater compared to their female counterparts. 

The other kicker in this whole mess is that the CSA claims to be very committed to their women’s team.  So committed, in fact, that Canada are the odds-on favorite to win the bid to host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Stepping back, the general business culture of the sports industry buries the innocence and purity of sport.  You are probably asking yourself, “Kevin, this is not news, why should I care?”  Let me tell you why.

Jump back to the NFL and NFLPA strife.  As of now, professional football is suspended indefinitely until a new CBA can be negotiated.  That means NO football and no one knows when we will see another great Super Bowl like the most recent one last week. 

Take a moment.  Think about the millions of children in the U.S. and all over the world who watched that game.  Think about how many young children would be crushed if there is no Super Bowl next year?

Consider the CSA and Canadian women’s national soccer team scuffle.  As of now, the Canadian women’s soccer team refuses to play a match and have stated they will not play in the 2011 Women’s World Cup this summer, if their demands are not met.  As the number 9 ranked team in the world, they are expected to make a very deep run in the tournament.

Remember when the U.S. Women won the 1999 World Cup on penalty kicks against China?  Remember when Brandi Chastain scored the World Cup-winning PK and then took off her jersey as the rest of the team stormed her in celebration?  Do you remember the large number of inspired young girls who began playing the sport as a result? Do you remember the sense of pride and nationalism we felt as a result?  I sure do, and I was 8 years old. 

If the CSA and players cannot come to an agreement, imagine the potential impact it will have on Canadian youth. According to a tweet by my dear friend, former colleague, and women’s soccer scholar, Natalie L. Smith, “…[the] CSA has [the] 3rd highest # of registered female players in the world.” Wow, that could potentially be a lot of disappointed young female athletes.

Point being, combining the innocence and purity of sport, with money, creates the conflict-riddled beast that is the sports industry.  As a result, these sports conflicts have a significant impact on our youth. 

If working in this industry has taught me one thing, it is that the culture is not going to change.  The sports industry is a business and that will hold true forever.  However, minor tweaks need to be made by those in power-positions. 

We need to bring back the purity and essence of sport.  In my opinion, the only way to do this is to take into account not only the monetary impact, but also the impact on our youth, when making major sports industry decisions. Until then, the sports industry will continue to be driven by greed. 

Consequently, the purity of sport and our children will be thrown under the bus.  Some tweaks need to be made and in doing so, our children will thank us.

Kevin Giordano is the President of the Sport Management Student Union (SMTSU) at Drexel University.  In addition to sharing his thoughts periodically, he writes a weekly column every Monday on this space – set to launch this coming Monday.  For questions or comments, he can be reached at kfg25@drexel.edu.  Readers are also encouraged to leave comments in the “comments” section below.

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