Sport has infected other fields with its values. Everything from hairdressing to accountancy now has its own awards ceremony, making mere workers into winners and losers. The recent British election was dominated by televised debates between the main party leaders, which turned a four-week campaign into a three-set match. Heavily previewed and then exhaustively dissected, the debates were sport without the drama, the athleticism, the crowd reaction or even the scoreboard. In the messy aftermath, the place to find out what was happening was not the lead stories, which were often bland and clueless, but the minute-by-minute updates, supplied by deskbound reporters—a trick imported from sport.
A winner-takes-all culture, which would have been abhorrent a generation ago, has spread outwards from banking, with its eight-figure bonuses. It is harder to protest against that when we swallow the extreme economics of sport. Cristiano Ronaldo is paid an estimated £11.3m a year by Real Madrid, or £217,000 a week. And that’s before he slips on his Y-fronts. Tiger Woods was still valued at $82m as a brand byForbes in February, even after 14 mistresses’ worth of dirty laundry.
As a whodunnit, this is “Murder on the Orient Express”. Every suspect had a motive: they all dunnit. And we have let them. Sport, more than most things, is what we make of it. It plays on a screen not just in the corner of the room but in our heads. Its significance largely consists of what we project on to it. We may be watching in much the same numbers, but we are doing so with greater intensity, and inside a wider penumbra of collective consciousness. We all dunnit.
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