One developing story that I have yet to comment on was the news that the traditional Boxing Day test in South Africa will be replaced this year by a Twenty20. Most pundits bemoaned the decision: calling it tragic, a disgrace, a break from holy tradition.
And at first, I agreed. If this had been Australia that had cancelled its Boxing Day test, I too would have been calling for heads, mostly because Australian test matches are Central Time Zone friendly. But since it was the South African test instead, I was able to approach the subject with a cooler head.
And I like the decision.
It shows some of that “outside of the box” thinking that cricket boards throughout the world are going to need to embrace if the game we love is going to survive this tumultuous period. Sometimes, tradition needs to be sacrificed for the overall sustainability of the organization the tradition initially supported. Vatican II took away the Latin mass; CSA takes away the Boxing Day test.
Unfortunately, the decision is quite correctly another check-mark in the Win column for the shortest format in its ongoing competition against the longest format, but the sooner we all stop thinking about it as a competition, the better. At some point, test cricket fans are going to need come to grips with the fact that the Twenty20 is here to stay. But then again so is Test Cricket. These are growing pains. Nothing more. And decisions like CSA’s, counterintuitively, are necessary evils in the pursuit of the over-reaching goal: the peaceful the peaceful coexistence of the two formats.
Today, there was a football match. Russia versus Poland. In Warsaw. On Russia Day. With a German referee.
It was terribly poor planning from UEFA. Now, I am not saying they should have cancelled the match, or moved the match, or swapped out the referee, but it all seems so…purposeful. Like they wanted to stoke the fires of Nationalism. They could have removed any or all of those qualifiers, but instead they let it all go forward. And they did so because they had a vested interest in the match: controversy sells tickets, it increases viewership, and it makes for a more lucrative product to sell to advertisers.
Their history is too long, and there is just too much potential for violence. Again, I am loathe to involve politics in sport, but UEFA simply should not allow Russia to play Poland, in Warsaw, on Russia Day, with a German referee.
Thankfully, despite reports of violence in the Russian’s pre-match march through the city center, and despite the Russians unfurling a massive “This Is Russia” banner during the national anthem, the match seemed to go off okay. The ref did a great job avoiding flash points, as one dodgy penalty call could have set of a thunderstorm of violence, and the fans for their part seemed more interested in what was an engrossing football match than they did in picking fights with supporters across the aisle.
Kudos as well to the players for not inciting violence with tasteless celebrations or gestures.
In the end, I guess, maybe UEFA is right. Maybe the game is bigger than petty nationalism; maybe fans, players, and referees can behave themselves no matter the history; maybe I am not giving anyone involved quite enough credit.
No such peace flags will be offered to the members of the media who covered the match, however, as they did not nothing for two days but salivate over the prospect of the ancient enemies doing battle on the football pitch. In Warsaw. On Russia Day. And the violence that might occur in the alleys or on the terraces.
For they know quite well that casual NASCAR fans watch for the crashes – and casual football fans watch for the riots. And the more viewers, the more money.
Which, at the end of the day, defines the real evil in all of this:
Whether it is a football match in Poland or a cricket game in Port Elizabeth. Money is the root of all decisions, be they good or bad.
Hopefully, for all our sakes, those decisions drive us closer to the former, rather than the latter.
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