Curious as it may seem now, with the world gripped by a sense of mild entertainment, but the Champions Trophy is usually the Ugly Sister’s leprosy-ridden foster child of international cricket tournaments. Hands up who remembers more than one match ever played in the six (yes, six) previous editions of this competition. It’s sort of like the World Cup…but it isn’t the World Cup. So why does it exist?
The answer, it seems, is that it exists as one big sponsorship brothel. From crowd competitions to kids playing on the outfield via half-time Zorbing contests, everything has its price. At no point are spectators in the ground told who’s actually playing on either side between the first ball and the last, but if it’s official sponsorship information you’re after then you’ve come to the right place. Pepsi, Moneygram, Doritos, LG, Hyundai, Reebok; it’s like a who’s who of second-rate brand names.
When Ravi Bopara’s bail fainted at Edgbaston on Saturday, the crowd stared hopefully at the big screen as they awaited some sort of vague hint as to what on Earth was going on, but were instead treated to five minutes of the word Emirates staring back at them. Or it might have been Reliance. Or Castrol. Fortunately the PA announcer immediately informed them as to the winner of the Moneygram Face In The Crowd competition, so at least that wasn’t to weigh too heavily on their minds. The paying spectators deserve to be kept aware of what is happening, and not just via word-of-mouth from the few in the crowd who have an earpiece (usually at extra expense) to listen to the commentary.
With every passing Gatorade Drinks Break it becomes easier to see why the ICC have been so fond of this tournament, and why they must have been loathe to consign it to the scrapheap of history. The official website has a rolling list of sponsors on the front page and also contains a “news summary” section, where the most up to date latest news is a link to the official shop. There is an official beer supplier, the screens are not so much for replays as extra space to shove scrolling adverts for Lays (not even a brand name used in the host nation); even the folks wandering around flogging India hats are actually offering ICC Approved India Caps. What’s more, with this year’s edition being held in front of mostly full houses and with more than a dozen people seeming to give a monkey’s about what happens, they must be raking in a fortune. The ICC chiefs will be snorting cocaine off hookers in the Ritz for months.
The cricket’s been good fun; there’s no faffing about for three months before the proper games start and everyone is as crap as each other (bar Australia, who are utter mince), making it as open a competition as ever. But it’s pretty clear to us that that’s little more than a happy accident to go alongside three weeks of forcing logos down the throat of every person brave enough to scrum their way into Edgbaston.
Of course, as with all things commercial, cricket still tails miles behind the wonderful world of football, where the World Cup sees ‘FIFA law’ introduced and people being thrown out of stadiums for wearing rival brands. While we appreciate that sponsors are an important bit of making these sorts of tournaments actually happen – Pommie Mbangwa’s commentary probably doesn’t come cheap – we’d hate to see cricket sell its soul to quite the same extent.