Posted by: Tony Carson | 6 September, 2007

Sport as a loathsome spectacle of greed

The future of spectator sport is being played out on the rugby fields of France.

Once, you held a sporting event and hoped the media would cover it. That’s how organized sports gained its popularity — promotion in the media. But, inevitably, the more a sport captured public imagination, the less it needed the press. Thus, sports governing bodies instituted rules: limited media access to athletes, formalized briefings, on-field access restrictions, regulated reporting and transmission requirements.

The challenge in this collusionary play has been to strike the right balance: encouraging the media to engage the public while limiting their ability to subvert both the sport as a spectacle and as a profit centre.

There is an inherent antipathy to this relationship: the one is in business to report news/information, the other is in business to maximize profits — and, thus, to limit anything that may hinder profits.

It seems that in this fragile balance the International Rugby Board of the Rugby World Cup, slated to get underway tomorrow in France, got a little too greedy:

“A day before the opening of the showcase tournament, the world’s three leading news agencies suspended coverage Thursday of the Rugby World Cup in a dispute with the sport’s governing body over media restrictions,” explains this AP article AP, AFP, Reuters suspend Rugby coverage.

So what are the issues here? These …

The IRB has modified some of the original terms offered to the media for Cup coverage but has refused to change others.

The AP’s Tomlin said the two most troubling conditions, “although by no means the only objectionable ones” still remaining, were:

• A requirement that news organizations post no more than 40 images online from matches in progress, despite an agreement in principle with the IRB two weeks ago that would have allowed several hundred.

• A limit of no more than three minutes of news conference or locker room video posted online per match.

Tomlin said the IRB’s conditions reflect a trend among sports leagues and event organizers toward ever tighter restrictions on the use that journalists can make of their own stories, photos, audio and video.

The global coalition was organized to challenge that trend. News organizations believe that the tighter restrictions are part of efforts by some sports organizers to engage in publishing ventures of their own and stifle competition.

The dispute has caused deep confusion for journalists this week. Some were able to obtain credentials without signing any credential terms. Others signed terms but were able also to give written notice that they were not authorized to bind their companies to the IRB’s conditions. Others were not able to obtain credentials, because they refused to sign the terms.

“The result has been piecemeal and very incomplete coverage, frustration and wasted time for staff,” Tomlin said. “We have decided that it makes no sense to continue sending journalists to events where it grows more doubtful every day that they will gain admittance without accepting terms that are unacceptable and still the subject of ongoing negotiations.”

In this age of greed where marketing and distribution rights are at least as important as what happens on the field, there is a collision course between the two vested interests. This brouhaha is a signal of many to come.

Needless to say, the spectator, the guy who makes all this happen, is the forgotten player in this delicate game — and as all the player strikes have shown, the spectators should be forgotten because they keep on coming back no matter what kind of crap that gets thrown at them.

So we should be glad that rugby adds to this loathsome spectacle of rampant greed. We are that much closer to the day when this house of cards comes tumbling down. A $100 ticket to watch millionaires play for billionaires is becoming increasingly more ridiculous.

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