Greed 6 - Sport 0

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Imagine the scene - a packed stadium gazes intently down upon some of the most significant specimens of human perfection on the planet. They line up in this cauldron of sporting ferment and take their stations, preparing to expend an unimaginable amount of energy in an unbelievably rapid sprint down a perfectly prepared running track.

These eight demigods stretch into the blocks, crouch and place their fingers into the furthest forward position permissible by the rules. They flex their rearward legs as the starter raises his pistol and the expectant crowd falls into a breathless hush. 

Then Usain Bolt twitches and the race is over. A pall of extreme disappointment descends on the assembled atheltics fans as they are denied the spectacle of seeing the fastest man in history demonstrate once again just how much better than everyone else he is. The other runners take up their positions again and all run to the end of the track. Someone wins, but few really care any more.


So what's this to do with greed?


In the good old days each athlete was allowed two mistakes before disqualification. You may remember that in case of a false start an official would scurry out and place a marker on to the small podium behind the lane marker. After the second marker had been placed on a runner's podium a third false start led to an early shower. Nowadays the slightest anticipation of the gun automatically sends the runner back to the changing room.

The old system allowed these highly-strung and highly-tensed humans a little leeway, and gave the best possible opportunity for sporting contest. The new system penalises every slight imperfection of movement.

The reason for this change is money.

We have bemoaned before how money is destroying the sporting spirit (see here, here, here, here and here). Athletics has become a major money-spinner and the days of the genuine amateur are long gone. It is estimated that Bolt himself commands a $250K appearance fee just to turn up and run. This fee money has to come from somewhere and ticket prices at the stadia are not sufficient. So it is TV that provides the funds for the big sporting events and helps to support the film star lifestyles of people who can run and jump better than other people.

But TV is a hard customer. TV stations run to schedules, sporting events normally run to programmes. In the bad old days a series of false starts could increase the duration of a short race like the 100m flat by several hundred percent. To illustrate: it takes three or four minutes of miling around before the runners take up their positions and if all goes to plan, twenty seconds later they're congratulating the winner and Bolt is waving his Nike shoes at the cameras. If two false starts are allowed it is quite possible that five or six cycles of taking position, standing up, wandering round shaking thighs and taking up position again could easily add seven or eight minutes to a ten-second race.

TV hates that, so the IAAF introduced the instant disqualification rule to ensure that sporting events ran to schedule as well.

And it works. For the TV companies, but not for the sports fans...

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