Is money ruining sport?

Sunday 18 October, 12.00 until 13.00, Free Stage, Barbican Contemporary Controversies

The English Premier League is regularly the subject of outraged editorials about its astonishing money-go-round. Even leaving aside the huge transfer fees – like the £49million Manchester City are said to have paid for Raheem Sterling – the wages paid are enormous. City and their neighbours Manchester United both have wage bills in excess of £200million per year. TV rights for the three seasons from 2016 have been sold for over £5 billion. The result is anguished discussion about the effect on young, suddenly wealthy players and on the loyalty – and wallets – of fans.

But the effect of money on sport goes way beyond football. Die-hard cricket fans fret that the rise of the much shorter but lucrative 20/20 format is undermining test cricket. Auctioning TV rights meant this year’s Ashes series had no live free-to-view coverage. Elsewhere, sceptics suggest Team Sky’s money has ‘bought’ the Tour de France. Some tennis players, like Maria Sharapova, seem to be more successful for modelling and endorsements than on court. Boxing’s pay-per-view business model means riches for promoters and fighters, but the end product – like this year’s fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao – is often an overpriced disappointment. There are also plenty of accusations that the administration of sport, most famously in the case of FIFA, is hopelessly corrupt.

On the other hand, the fact that fans are willing to pay such prices suggests the product is of a high standard. While there is much reminiscing about the amateur, Corinthian spirit, surely it is only right that competitors with short careers at the top get a fair share of the spoils? Lottery money for training facilities and coaches meant British competitors at London 2012 were able to win plenty of gold medals – and generate enormous excitement across the nation.

Is the hatred directed towards big money in sport justified? Have the interests of TV, football agents and foreign owners trumped the needs and emptied the wallets of fans? Should supporters, like those of Manchester United and Wimbledon, vote with their feet and start again by creating their own clubs? Has money raised standards and allowed professional sports stars – particularly footballers - to finally earn a living commensurate with their fame? Or has the lure of money created a generation of terrible role models for young people?

Duleep Allirajah
sports columnist, spiked; Crystal Palace fan

Bill Biss
editor, STAND Fanzine

Daisy Christodoulou
research and development director, Ark Schools; author, Seven Myths about Education; season ticket holder, West Ham

Mark Littlewood
director general, Institute of Economic Affairs

Annie Vernon
Olympic silver medallist and two-time World Champion rower; journalist and speaker

Geoff Kidder
director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters

Produced by
Geoff Kidder director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters
Recommended readings
Football and big money: the root of all entertainment Shingi Mararike, spiked, 17 July 2015

Is Sepp Blatter really Stalin or Saddam Hussein? Mick Hume, spiked, 8 June 2015

Against Modern Football: the controversial movement to reclaim a sport from capitalism gone mad

Are you sick of what was once the working man's game being systematically turned into a business, with a blatant disregard for the fans who formed the traditions that made it so great?

Leander Schaerlaeckens, Vice, 5 February 2015

Price of City away tickets is a parable for our age

In football you see some of the worst aspects of the rapacious capitalism that has driven people on to the streets in protest around the world

Simon Kelner, Independent, 11 January 2013

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