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Less should be more when it comes to sport

Opinion
Recently, I have decided to get involved in sport again. No Joel, mountain biking is not on the agenda. Watch this space.

However, fair play to you for the humorous tweets after the accident, but for heaven's sake, realise when the time has come to put away your competitive side.

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John Robbie.

Mind you, maybe that characteristic is the reason you won us the World Cup in 1995. On reflection, keep going for it, but take care and get well soon.

The problem in sport today is that there is far too much of it at professional level. This sounds contradictory coming from a sports fanatic, but it is true nonetheless.

Look at our major offerings – cricket, rugby, soccer, golf and boxing. I know road running is huge but, like fishing, surely it is more about participation than mass audience support.

These days it is almost impossible to watch all the offerings and even to follow them. Many people still get mixed up between their cricket franchises since they dropped the locational monikers. Remind me again which are the Warriors and which are the Eagles? Oh yes. Until next time.

In rugby, by the time Super Rugby gets into round five or six, its hard to get worked up by any game that doesnt involve your own team. Also, the crazy system to insure playoff places for each country makes a mockery of fair play.

Soccer is easier to follow with leagues and knockouts, but in South Africa, for all the fanaticism, the empty terraces when none of the big three are involved is noticeable.

Boxing finally seems to be on the way back, albeit slowly, but where are the super fights for world titles we used to see so often?

Golf seems to be thriving and it is good to see so many co-sanctioned events. However, maybe it is because each tournament is so huge that compared to the other sports, they are few and far between.

It all seems less than ideal.

Television is of course both the saviour and the slave master of sport. The massive rights fees and the knock-on in advertising are the drivers, but there is a heavy price to pay. The sports channels need product, product and yet more product, so they demand their pounds of flesh. So do the sponsors and advertisers.

The players are on the treadmill and realise that a sporting career can be short and end suddenly, so, agent-fuelled, they ride the dragon, often to the point of staleness, injury and exhaustion.

Did you ever look at the two biggest sports in America – football and baseball? Both are US institutions and the stars are fabulously famous and wealthy.

They seems to have similar systems that lead to a grand final, or series, that decides between East and West or NFC and AFC champions. In fact, they are very different in terms of the numbers of games played and spectator support.

In baseball, the MLB season consists of 162 games – yes, you read it correctly, 162 – for each of the 30 teams in the two leagues.

Due to travel concerns and the sheer number of games, the regular season is constructed from series. Sides never play each other in single games, but play a number against each other on consecutive days or double-headers. Thus, there is wall-to-wall baseball for the six-month season.

Stadiums are often less than full and in a way it is like first-class domestic cricket. Fewer watch it, but many follow it. The World Series at the end is insanely popular and takes over the nation.

American football is the opposite. Each NFL team plays only 16 games in a season that lasts 17 weeks. Can you believe how few games they actually play? The 32 teams are split into two conferences, the AFC and NFC, and each conference is split into north, south, east and west divisions. Each team plays its own division sides home and away.

After that there is a strict rotation, so each team plays one game against a side from each division within the conference and one from each division in the other conference. The final two games depend on the previous year’s performance and are against teams in their own conference.

It sounds complicated and is worked out by computer, but the end result is that each team have to play each other team over the years and, importantly, each game, because there are so few, is played in front of a full stadium and a massive TV audience.

Local events are taken into account when venues are scheduled to maximise the influence of each game.

Administrators here are not stupid, but have to juggle a whole series of competing agendas and the end result is the complicated mishmash we have of seemingly endless and often seemingly meaningless fixtures. A bit like baseball in the US.

Surely the best answer for everyone can be summed up in the motto “less is more”. Fewer games, but all of great significance, will increase interest beyond belief. Fans will flock to stadiums and TV audiences will soar.

Players will suffer from less injury and burn-out, and yet also maximise fame and therefore earnings.

Sponsors will have less direct exposure, but this can be made up by promotion and expectation as fewer yet bigger games approach.

Sport here is great but, like the country in general, it can do so much better.

* Robbie is a former British Lions, Ireland and Transvaal scrumhalf

Saturday Star

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