The Ventilator

Incorporating The Ranger's Blog


Perhaps sport isn’t simply a load of balls?

Cat James
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As I write, the whistle peeps to start the women’s football world cup final. With their incredible successes on the pitch, England’s Lionesses are inspiring many women and girls to participate in sport like never before. And, seeing the painted smiling faces in the crowd, it’s clearly a competition people are excited to witness.

This year I have also (uncharacteristically) found myself watching football at two of Europe’s most prestigious stadiums. In May, I visited Spain’s Santiago Bernabéu for Real Madrid vs Getafe.The atmosphere was fabulous; vast pennants waved in sync to drums beating time with terrace chants.

Later that month I was in London for the division one playoff finals; a Yorkshire derby between Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley. The Wembley audience of nearly 73,000 was even more raucous than that at Bernabéu; cheering and singing with gusto. Then, on the stroke of one-nil o’clock, the blue end erupted triumphantly.

Along with fifty-two thousand other spectators, I’d paid an eye-watering €100 to see the footie in Madrid – and that’s without the associated costs of buying a commemorative scarf! With those astronomical weekly ticket prices, plus television rights and sponsorship, it’s understandable how the beautiful game is one of the world’s most lucrative and competitive industries.

Nonetheless, a sporting fixture is not necessarily a licence to print money. This week it was announced that the Victorian government in Australia agreed to compensate Commonwealth Games bodies by $380m after cancelling the 2026 tournament; the state’s premier Daniel Andrews’ justification being that the enormous costs of hosting the games would far outweigh the benefit. The massive payout is asserted to be the best outcome the state could get – remaining better than going ahead with the actual outlay of hosting.

As well as potentially heralding the end of the Commonwealth Games if another nation cannot be found to bankroll it, cancellation is also a personal disappointment for the athletes. Aussie track cyclist Alessia McCaig said, “I was really looking forward to competing in front of a home crowd and having the opportunity to have a lot my friends and family there watching me,”

I thought about Alessia’s statement. How, despite the passion that – particularly international – sporting competitions stimulate, there’s only a small number of people actually participating. At last year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, there were 5,054 athletes from 72 nations. The games were publicly funded to the tune of £778m; working out to be a spend of around £154k per athlete. I’m sure this is a far too rudimentary representation of the balance sheet, but you get the idea.

The expense of professional football is often justified by the trickle-down effects it has on the grassroots game, so despite their <checks final score> one-nil defeat, the high-profile Lionesses will undoubtedly kick-start many a kick-about.

It’s surely impossible to monetise the inspiration, motivation and perspiration the work of professional athletes engenders in the wider population – so does ascribing solely a financial cost to sport’s influence make us all the poorer?

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 25 August 2023 and also online.

Cat James

Graphic designer, creative director of Pinkeye Graphics, Isle of Wight County Press columnist, Cat out of Matt and Cat

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