Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 29 January 2015

Time for professional sport to re-examine its values

Telegraph Sport: where the debate started

Prize guy: Novak Djokovic seals his Wimbledon title with a kiss
Prize guy: Novak Djokovic seals his Wimbledon title with a kiss

Sport is defined as being 'an individual or group activity pursued for exercise or pleasure, often taking a competitive form'.

But add the adjective 'professional' and it's a very different ball-game, motivated by money and power.

Six years ago I travelled to Uganda to witness an Oxfam project. It was the most humbling, eye-opening and in many ways shocking experience of my life to date, for I saw poverty hitherto unknown to me.

In the midst of quite appalling want, one of the paradoxes that stood out most was the sight of Ugandan youngsters kitted out in Real Madrid, Liverpool, Barcelona and Manchester United jerseys donated via charities.

Another abiding memory is of those same youngsters making their way, bare-foot, through 10 kilometres of bush and scrub to the town of Kitgum to watch Champions' League football on TV before setting out in total darkness to make the same dangerous trek back to their mud and wattle huts.

News of Manchester United's £750 million kit deal with adidas revived those memories, with adverts requesting £2 per month for Save the Children merely adding to the incongruity.

Novak Djokovic lifted £1.76 million for winning Wimbledon and the winner of this weekend's Open at Hoylake will pocket £975,000.

Earlier this year the World Economic Forum warned: "The chronic gap between the incomes of the richest and poorest citizens is seen as the risk that is most likely to cause serious damage globally in the coming decade."

Isn't it time professional sport examined its values – and its soul – afresh?

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