Lisa Sthalekar (in pic), former Australia cricket captain and now mentor of the UP Warriorz in the WPL, was asked in a podcast recently about the inaugural match of the tournament, Mumbai Indians versus Gujarat Giants. “Has anyone wondered where the money (of these teams) is coming from?” It was a casual, throwaway conversational query, and Sthalekar could have laughed it off.
Instead, she struck a pragmatic note. “It is very hard in this day and age especially in women’s sport,” she responded, “to scrutinise every company,” and suggested that most companies might have something that “doesn’t sit right.” To be honest, she said, everybody is swept up in what is happening in women’s cricket.
There is an element here of not looking the gift horse in the mouth.
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Just how responsible for their owners’ other activities are sports teams? When such things as human rights and economic fraud do not affect political relationships between countries, why should sports be expected to watch its step?
Qatar, which spent about 250 billion dollars on the recent World Cup football, and copped a few million words in criticism for its political, cultural and social policies, still ran a successful tournament.
Now the country is looking to buy the iconic Manchester United Football Club which is 150 years old and has 659 million followers according to a recent survey.
Fans in England are divided for the same reasons the World Cup was criticised. But considering that other league teams like Newcastle United and Manchester City are owned by potentates from the Middle East, there is some hypocrisy here. The Qatar Investment Authority (worth about 450 billion dollars) already owns fully or partially such British landmarks as Harrod’s, Sainsbury’s, Barclays Bank, the Shard, Canary Wharf, Claridge’s, and Heathrow Airport.
Owning a sports club is a way to win the hearts and minds of people at large. Qatar already owns the French club Paris St Germain (bought in 2011). If there is uneasiness outside Qatar that a country should own a football club or any of these other properties, the ruling family can point to the various funds set up to give the whole exercise a feel of coming from different sources and directions.
The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) has objected to the possible Qatari takeover because of that country’s human rights record.
Some of the disquiet is more football-related. The troubles in Paris St Germain involve not money but management. Manchester City, UAE-owned, has been charged with financial irregularities.
And yet the question remains: should sport and sporting teams be worried about the ethical standards of their financiers, or is sport being held to a higher morality? Why should a British public which didn’t mind Qatar’s takeover of many of its public places be fussed about a football team’s changing hands? Whatever the track record of the owners of Mumbai Indians and Gujarat Giants, should a cricketer be expected to turn down their offers to support the sport?
The answers aren’t as clear-cut as the questions.