Time-wasting is killing Test cricket

TODAY is the fifth and final day of the second cricket Test between Australia and the West Indies and I am watching the final session as I write this. I have been watching, and listening to the game on radio, since I was 10 years old and I will probably be fascinated by it till I die.

The West Indies, surprisingly, have had the better of the exchanges in this game, after losing the first Test in three days.

Test cricket is a slow game and has always been so. Yet it has been made progressively slower over the years by the disgusting tactics adopted by players and the inability or refusal of umpires to reel them in.

Take the ongoing game. The post-lunch session on the final day began two minutes late. When tea-time was reached, the umpires took up position for one more over. The two Australian batsmen started walking off – they were trying to save the match. The umpires said nothing. One over was lost.

There are a hundred similar things that happen during a game – players wasting time during an over, between overs, calling for drinks at any time they feel like, captains talking to bowlers again and again about field settings, and on and on and on.

The teams are required by the playing terms and conditions to bowl 90 overs a day. That works out to 4 minutes for an over – one hell of a lot of time. A fast bowler should have no problem getting through six balls in that time.

Yet no team bowls 90 overs in a day. Play always goes on for the extra half-hour that is allowed if needed but even after 6½ hours, the number of overs bowled is always short of 90.

The paying public have their own lives to lead. They are expected to spend an extra 30 minutes at the game – and that means 2½ hours for the duration of a Test – and yet not get the full value they have paid for.

And the folk who run the game are surprised that the public are losing interet in Test cricket!

The administrators of the game – the International Cricket Conference – are more interested in coming up with gimmicks to retain public interest in the game. They are a bunch who have little interest in the game apart from the money – and it’s a lot of money – that they gain by being involved.

Now that the ICC is headquartered in that dodgiest of places, Dubai, it means that income is tax-free.

The West Indies, the top team in the game during the 1980s and 1990s, has fallen away and become a joke but the ICC has never thought about funding some kind of programme to ensure that the islands that make up the West Indies can run some kind of decent development plan to keep training cricketers.

As a result, many series are played between grossly mismatched teams and the public are expected to turn up and watch. The public come to see good performances but how can players who are turning up for games of all kinds – five-day, 50-over and 20-over – shine every time?

How can players who are not trained properly play the game at the level expected? Mediocrity rules – but there are TV commentators aplenty who hype up even this sad spectacle.

And the public are still expected to turn up, knowing fully well that overworked players will put in half-hearted performances simply because they have been playing too many games.

Even the ICC’s latest gimmick, the introduction of referrals to a TV umpire, so that a team can question two decisions per innings in a Test match, has been such a badly botched exercise that most of the players are already pissed off.

One umpire, Mark Benson, could not take the pressure of the players questioning his decisions and promptly left the ongoing second Test after one day of officiating.

Test cricket has no future and with the ICC in charge it is sure to die off in the next five years.

Is Haddin fit to be Australia’s Test keeper?

FOR any wicketkeeper to take over from the multi-talented Adam Gilchrist is a difficult task. When the replacement is a man who quickly sets an Australian record for byes conceded in a Test, it becomes all the more difficult to escape scrutiny.

Brad Haddin is playing his 21st Test for Australia right now and has already conceded the grand total of 265 byes. That’s a very high number for a keeper at any level of the game. When it comes to Test cricket, it is bad.

By the time Haddin had played 15 Tests he had conceded 179 byes; at that stage Gilchrist had conceded just 77. Gilchrist’s predecessor, Ian Healy, had 84 at that stage of his career.

Haddin hasn’t reached anything like Gilchrist’s level of proficiency with the bat either; his 1217 runs have come at an average of 39.25 with two hundreds. He has claimed 77 victims, one of them stumped.

Gilchrist turned many games Australia’s way with his batting. His strike rate was 81 runs per 100 balls in Test cricket. Haddin isn’t even close on this front.

Last year in a Test against India at Nagpur, during a series that Australia lost 0-2, Haddin conceded 39 byes to create his own record. At one stage, he was so frustrated that he threw a glove at the ball when it deflected off Sachin Tendulkar’s body. Result: Australia was penalised five runs.

But it is not only in these respects that Haddin comes off looking bad. Gilchrist had the reputation of someone who played the game in a fair manner and was one of just two players during his time – the other was Brian Lara – who walked when he felt he was out. Nobody walks in the modern game.

Haddin was caught out putting his hands in front of the stumps during a one-day international against New Zealand; the ball hit his hands and then went on to the stumps. Neil Broome was adjuged bowled and after video replays made Haddin’s actions evident, New Zealand skipper Daniel Vettori did everything but call Haddin a cheat.

And Haddin has a reputation for being quite a noisy character at the crease. He often can be heard sledging the bowlers and at other times gets quite chatty when a batsman is settling down and looking like he will be around for a while.

When Haddin was injured during the Ashes in England this year, Graham Manou took over. He was then injured and Tim Paine did service for Australia. Both showed much better ability behind the stumps.

Given that Haddin has the blessings of the selectors, he will continue to be the number one keeper unless his performances come under more scrutiny. The Australian media is not overly prone to examine the performance of any player when the country is winning. When the losses mount, then the folk who write for a living get vicious.

Haddin, thus, will survive without having to do a great deal. The fact that he is from New South Wales, which has always been the dominant power in Australian cricket, will no doubt help.

But it is a big comedown from Gilchrist. And that becomes more and more evident with each Test that passes by.

West Indies ruled because they worked hard

TEST cricket from 1980 to 1995 was ruled by one team – the West Indies. During that period, the team never lost a Test series, they either won or drew, no matter where.

There was no points system in place during those years to rank Test teams. Such a system often enables a team to retain the status of top Test team even though it has lost numerous series here and there. During those years, you had to avoid being beaten to stay on top – and for 15 years the West Indies did just that.

One of the great fast bowlers of that period, Joel “Big Bird” Garner, (so named because he stands six feet and eight inches in his socks) was interviewed on TV in Australia yesterday, where the West Indies are now playing a three-Test series and making a pretty big mess of it as well.

Garner, who hails from Barbados, is the manager.

It was interesting to listen to him even if some of the questions posed by Mark Nicholas of Channel Nine were somewhat banal. Thankfully, Ian Chappell was also present for a major part of the interview and he rarely puts his foot in his mouth or utters an unnecessary word.

During the interview there was some footage shown of the famed West Indies fast bowlers of that period getting Australians caught or bowled. There were other clips of bowlers like Curtley Ambrose hitting batsmen on parts of the body and leaving them bent over in pain.

What was most interesting was Garner’s answer to an obvious question – why were the West Indies so good during that period and why had they fallen away so much?

Many people are under the impression that the West Indies just happened to produce a huge number of very good cricketers during that period, players who performed consistently due to their talent.

(After Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose, the West Indies have not produced a quality fast bowler. There have been several who have flattered, only to deceive.)

While Garner admitted that they did have talented players aplenty, he had one reason for the success they enjoyed – hard work and thinking about the game.

Much of the credit was given to Andy Roberts, the first great fast bowler of the 20 years from 1974, a period when there were more great pacemen in the game than at any time in the history of the game.

The names of the pacemen from different countries who left their mark (and on batsmen’s bodies too) are familiar – Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Geoff Lawson, Merv Hughes, Craig McDermott, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall, Wayne Daniels, Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose, Patrick Patterson, Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Richard Hadlee, Bob Willis, Allan Donald and Fanie de Villiers.

Garner said a junior fast bowler would room with a senior paceman on tour and during Tests – and pick up valuable hints about attacking the opposition.

And whenever the pace quartet was about to come up against a particular batsman, they would pick a man from their own team who was as close as possible to that man and bowl to him in the bats.

For instance, when they wanted to devise a strategy to attack Allan Border, they had numerous sessions in the nets with Larry Gomes. And when they were thinking about the best way to tackle an attacking right-hander, they would ask the great Viv Richards to have a turn against them in the nets.

Many people think of Richards as arrogant but he never put his own interests above those of the team. He was simply proud to be part of that team.

And the West Indies of the modern era? They were lazy, said Garner. They did not train and they did not enjoy the game half as much as the teams of the 1980s and 1990s did.

Garner is in his third year as the president of the Barbados Cricket Association, and trying to upgrade the status of the game on the island. Part of his initiative involves the setting up of a museum so that youngsters can be made aware of exactly how much a tiny island like Barbados has contributed to world cricket.

Any initiative which helps to produce a better class of cricketer for the Caribbean team would be more than welcome. The last time the West Indies were competitive against Australia was when they drew a series 2-2 in the Caribbean in 1999, solely due to the efforts of one Brian Charles Lara.

Australia: where the climate does not change

THERE are two kinds of people in the opposition party in Australia these days – one set believes that the earth is not warming, the other set believes that there may be some warming but man has nothing to do with it. Yes, those six billion-odd souls dwelling on this planet do not in any way contribute any kind of heat to the atmosphere.

That this kind of thinking is even present in a so-called Western developed country in 2009 is a matter that should cause surprise anywhere else. But it is so, and we have an opposition that is now trying to manage the changes in climate without any kind of carbon trading scheme.

Many everyday occurrences tend to drive home the message that humans generate heat. Simply packing four people into a car when it is cold outside and driving a few miles is enough to demonstrate to anyone, except the totally blind, that humans can raise the temperature. And our planet isn’t in some open-ended system – Earth has its limits set as well.

But that does not appear to be apparent to politicians in the opposition in Australia.

There is one politician, a gent named Steve Fielding, who wanted to set up a royal commission to determine whether climate change is real or not. I kid you not. He is from a party called Family First and claims to be an engineer.

Excess heat can affect weather patterns in dramatic ways. I saw this firsthand in the Persian Gulf after the US and its so-called coalition staged a war in 1991 to evict Iraq from Kuwait. Iraq had invaded and occupied the emirate in August 1900.

Before the war, Dubai used to get just three or four days of rain, sometime in December. I remember my chief sub-editor, a jocular Pakistani, telling me on December 27, 1997, “have a good look, my dear, you won’t see much of this in Dubai.” That day it had rained for the first time after I had reached the emirate the previous month.

The amount of heat generated by all the activity in the Gulf area by the war had a dramatic effect on the rainfall pattern in Dubai. In April 1991, there was so much rain in Dubai that the government had to quickly put in place a plan to build a drainage system. Until that point such a system wasn’t needed because there was very little water to be drained.

Climate change sceptics point to the occasional cool years over a period – 1998 was the hottest year for some time, after that it has been cooler – and try to scoff at the science. But then if all of us 6 billion-plus humans are sitting around breathing and occasionally breaking wind, that has to be doing something to the atmosphere. Commonsense tells us that.

One could quote scientific study by chapter and verse, but it isn’t needed when a little use of the grey matter suffices. This is not a question of belief as in religion – this is commonsense. But that seems to be in short supply.

There are many who say that nature will fix itself. But they forget that we are not giving nature a break to effect such healing. It is not possible for any system, no matter how flexible, to heal itself while one is continuing to load up more and more of the substances that bring about the need for healing in the first place.

The Christian fundamentalists who tell us that God will fix it all are entitled to their belief. But they should note that the Bible speaks a lot about climate change Time to have a look before speaking.

I guess the human race will only realise the seriousness of an issue when it actually hits them. Pleas from people in the Maldives, who fear that the sea will inundate their own country, will have no effect. Neither will bizarre everyday occurrences that lead to just one conclusion – the earth is heating and we had better try and save it while we can.

It may already be too late. But when most of those in decision-making positions are middle-aged and do not expect to live to see the dramatic effects that are predicted, why bother?

UAE National Day – but not much to celebrate in Dubai

TODAY is the national day of the United Arab Emirates. But I guess the sheikhs in Dubai won’t be breaking out the champagne or even having a feast. There’s a big shadow hanging over that emirate.

But much as Dubai is painted as the bad boy of the seven emirates that make up the country, there is no great virtue in any of the others.

Each and every emirate has been built on the back of cheap labour from the Indian subcontinent, workers who pay hefty bribes to agents in Bombay and Karachi to get jobs that promise much in terms of pay and deliver very little.

These workers are treated like indentured slaves – anyone who works in the UAE (and indeed anywhere in the Persian Gulf) has to give his passport to his employer; if a worker goes missing, the employer is held responsible and this is used as logic to retain the passport.

But in reality, this is a way of ensuring that employees cannot flee if they feel that conditions are getting too much for them to bear. During the decade I spent in Dubai, I have seen building site labourers stagger into air-conditioned supermarkets, their eyes bloodshot after a day of working outdoors in 36-degree heat, so that they could pick up a cool can of Pepsi (which at that time cost one dirham; 3.65 dirhams buys one US dollar) and a plastic pack of cheap unleavened bread (quboos) for their dinner.

These are the same people who try to spot a literate person on the plane home in order to get their immigration forms filled. I have spent the entire 2½ hours from Dubai to Bombay filling in forms more than once.

Abu Dhabi may have more stately buildings than Dubai but they were built in the same way as those in Dubai. And the same goes for Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain and Ajman.

The last-named emirate, incidentally, has a thriving business importing liquor and bottling it there. I once visited a man who is a major importer of rum which he then bottles and passes off as Old Monk rum, a well-known brand from India. Being a regular rum drinker, I was able to spot the difference, but my host smiled and said that only one in a thousand was a devoted rum drinker to the extent that I was at the time. Most people in Ajman buy liquor just to get drunk and forget the drudgery of their existence – they are not bothered about the brand, merely that it should be fermented enough to enable them to forget their misery.

My host told me that he had no visa to stay there and did not need one – he merely presented a new model Mercedes to the director of the municipality every year. At that time, he had been there for 28 years.

But it’s not only fake liquor that you can buy in Ajman. You can buy the real thing too and openly on the beach. One Friday, back in April 1995, during a picnic on the beach in Ajman, I remember putting down a few cans of Foster’s beer, an Australian brand. Not far from me and my friends and family on the beach, there were citizens of many different countries, all paying homage to the same brand. There were plenty of good Muslims among them as evidenced by their attire.

Sharjah, for all its cultural preenings (the ruler, Shaikh Sultan, has allegedly obtained a doctorate by writing a thesis claiming that there was never any piracy in the Gulf!), is also driven by the one god to whom all of us pay homage – money. If liquor is not served in Sharjah hotels, it is only because of the donations made to the emirate by the Saudi rulers, money that has enabled Sharjah to build a very nice old-style souk.

(But then Saudi Arabia’s ban on liquor has nothing to do with religion. Back in the 1950s, one of the royal family members shot and killed the British ambassador after getting intoxicated. King Ibn Saud offered blood money and the prince’s head to the envoy’s widow. After that, liquor was banned in the country – but every good Saudi has a decent bar, with the liquor mostly coming into the country in crates of furniture. Plenty of Saudis are summoned to the airport to be told that their furniture is leaking.)

For quite a few years after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, most of the flights coming into Sharjah from the central Asian republics were full of beautiful women – who then promptly headed to Dubai for a spot of “work”. I had a glimpse of the fashion parade when my family returned to the UAE via Sharjah in 1996.

Dubai is more open about things like liquor and makes money off it too – every bottle or can or cask sold at either Maritime Mercantile Inc or African & Eastern, the two liquor agents, had a 30 percent mark-up during my time there. This tax goes to the government.

Those who are castigating Dubai, get a grip on the facts. The tales told about Dubai may be more lurid and licentious, but the rest of the UAE is in the game too. It is done in quieter fashion, though. Perhaps that is more acceptable to the Western eye.

Dubai: the party seems to be over

INDICATIONS are emerging that the Dubai financial crisis will lead to a significant change in the emirate’s make-up. The Dubai government has let it be known that the debts of Dubai World, which sought a deferment of loan payments last week, is not guaranteed by the emirate’s government.

The Dubai government’s distancing itself from what was once thought to be a state-owned company indicates that it will let the company go to the wall as long as the government’s backside is saved.

Not that there has been no inkling of this – in October, the government issued a prospectus to interest investors in a $2.5 billion Islamic bond. Few who read the prospectus noticed this: “The Dubai government is under no obligation to extend support to any government-related entity”.

That little bit of prose now assumes great significance after the announcement last Wednesday by Dubai World, which is carrying around $60 billion of debt, that it would be seeking a six-month break in repayments. This came hours after the government of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum had raised something like $5 billion from two banks to cover its own debts.

Abu Dhabi, which has 92 percent of the UAE’s oil reserves, and is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, can easily bail out Dubai. But, given the tribal nature of society in the UAE, it is unlikely that any money will change hands unless Abu Dhabi can extract a price – possibly control of Emirates airline, the Dubai Ports Corporation or the Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone.

Sheikh Mohammed visited Abu Dhabi on November 27, the customary trip to greet the president of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, on the occasion of Eid Al Adha (the Muslim feast of sacrifice). It is unlikely that their exchanges were limited to Eid greetings.

Dubai has always been the upstart of the federation, having sufficient finances to thumb its nose at Abu Dhabi and having a much higher profile than any of the other emirates. The other five emirates have all been dependent on Abu Dhabu for handouts; the capital provides 90 percent of the country’s budget.

The other sheikhs – Al Qasimis of Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, Al Sharqis of Fujairah and Al Muallas of Umm Al Quwain – would be extremely happy to see Dubai taken down a peg or two. Despite much talk of Islamic unity and Muslim brotherhood, at heart they all still remain feuding desert tribes who delight in the art of one-upmanship.

Sheikh Mohammed is the third ruler of Dubai since 1958; his father, Sheikh Rashid ruled from 1958 till his death in 1990, and his elder brother, Maktoum, ruled from 1990 until he died in 2006. But Mohammed has always been the leader since his father died, and all the grandiose ideas come from him. Maktoum was a simple man; another elder brother, Hamdan, is a canny one with money and is the country’s finance minister. The youngest of the brothers, Ahmed, is something of a playboy.

It is not only in Dubai that things seem to be unravelling for Sheikh Mohammed. In London in October, Istithmar World, the investment arm of Dubai World, sold two properties, which it had bought for £90 million, at the knockdown price of £10 million. Marcol House in Regent Street and an office building in Newman Street were sold when Istithmar was unable to pay interest on a loan.

Additionally, Dubai World’s ports branch has been reviewing its £1.5 billion London Gateway Port project. A loan of £300 million was taken in November from the European Investment Bank to rescue the project.

Perhaps people should have sat up and taken notice three years ago when it became known that several of the projects proposed for Dubailand, a $5 billion project announced by Sheikh Mohammed in 2003, had been scaled down or knocked back altogether.

The arrogance evident in the announcement can be gauged from this bit of his speech: “I would like to tell capitalists that Dubai does not need investors, investors need Dubai and I tell you that the risk lies not in using your money but in letting it pile up.”

Probably that is why Dubai finds itself in the spot it is in right now.

Dubai: the mirage in the desert

FOR years, Dubai has been regarded as a marvel. It has had the most grandiose projects, the most outrageous projects, the most fancy buildings. Everything there has been a celebration of one god – money.

Now it looks like the party is coming to an end.

It is difficult to imagine the Maktoum family, which rules Dubai, going, begging bowl in hand, to the Nahyan clan, the rulers of Abu Dhabi, but that is exactly what the former will have to do if they do not want a sudden collapse to take place.

Dubai has overstretched itself to the extent of around $80 billion; something in the region of $3.5 billion will fall due for repayment in the next few weeks and the emirate has sought an extension of six months. In other words, the cupboard is bare.

Ten years ago, the fantasy projects were not underway, the emirate was doing well financially and serving as a trading post for every kind of deal under the sun. It has always had a laissez-faire attitude towards money and a man who walked into Dubai carrying $1 million in his briefcase never caused any eyebrows to be raised.

But after the grandiose projects began – the world’s tallest building, the creation of an island in the shape of the globe in the ocean and so on – the level of finance that was borrowed reached astronomical proportions. Nobody dared to suggest that Dubai could not pay back the money, everyone was eager to jump on the merry-go-round and grab a piece of the action.

Nobody ever thought it pertinent to point out that Dubai has little oil and that most of its money comes from trade. Nobody thought it relevant to point out that the entire United Arab Emirates is violating one fundamental principle of any country – it spends without a thought but the residents pay no tax.

Given that the whole country was once desert, the entire infrastructure is built on sand. Desalination plants supply water at a big price – but residents pay very little. Electricity is generated at a massive price – but again subsidised. Roads have to be built and rebuilt as they sink into the soft desert sand. In the end where does the money come from?

Ninety-two percent of the oil in the UAE is in Abu Dhabi, the capital, which subsidises the smaller emirates – Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Sharjah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain – that, together with Dubai, make up the country. The extent of waste can be gauged by one simple fact – there are six, fully functional, international airports in this little dagger-shaped nation – two in Abu Dhabi, and one each in Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. And a seventh is being planned, in Dubai!

Why does one need that number of international airports in a country which can be navigated by car in a few hours? One can understand if Dubai and Abu Dhabi have an airport apiece; they are not needed anywhere else. Sharjah is just 20 minutes drive from Dubai.

But this is only the first symbol of the gross over-consumption. For years, Dubai has been living beyond its means and the day of reckoning is coming. Unless, of course, the Nahyan clan is willing to come to the rescue and bail out Sheikh Mohammed.

It’s fine to cheat – as long as you don’t get caught

France has qualified for the World Cup football tournament in 2010 by cheating. Captain Thierry Henry showed the way, using his hand to guide the ball back to himself before passing it to a colleague to score.

The last time one saw a hand blatantly in use in any match connected with the World Cup was back in 1986 when Diego Maradona scored a goal against England during the league stage of the Cup.

There’s one difference – Maradona tried to spin his way out by saying it was the “hand of God” that had touched the ball. Henry is open about having intentionally touched the ball and saying it was the referee’s duty to spot such infringements.

Henry is one of the top earners in world football. All the money and ability he has does not appear to have improved his sense of fair play. He just wants to win and at any cost.

There is talk of a re-match after ireland, which was the team dudded out of the competition by Henry’s hand, complained to the world football governing body, FIFA.

France has had an up-and-down World Cup record; it won the cup in 1998 and then went out in the first round in 2002 before reaching the final in 2006. In 1986, it played one of the epics when it beat Brazil via a tie-breaker in the quarter-finals.

Henry’s cheating is just the latest such incident to illustrate the fact that in sport nowadays, given the amount of money at stake, winning is the only thing. It doesn’t matter if you cheat, you just shouldn’t get caught.

When India toured Australia for a cricket series back in 2007-08, Andrew Symonds was caught behind off the thickest of edges during a Test match in Sydney.

He stood his ground even though the nick could be heard in Tasmania. The match turned ugly later when Symonds was allegedly called a monkey by Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh.

But Symonds defended his conduct even though he admitted that he had edged the ball. Singh got away with the mildest of raps on his knuckles.

While Ireland hopes for a re-match, it is highly unlikely. FIFA has already shown some kind of bias towards both France and Portugal during the qualifying stage by allowing teams to be seeded well after the qualifying process began.

There are some teams in world football which are, evidently, more equal than others. France is one among them. And Ireland does not stand a hope in hell of getting anything like justice.

When sports bodies dictate the agenda…

RUGBY matches telecast in New Zealand on Sky TV are made highly watchable by the two commentators – Grant Nisbett and Murray Mexted. Nisbett follows the game and Mexted, a former All Black, adds some spicy comment.

But that is all in the past. Mexted has been shown the door by Sky simply because he criticised the New Zealand rugby union authorities for their decision to cut four teams from the provincial Air New Zealand cup tournament next year.

Mexted was apparently told by Sky that the NZRU was a commercial partner and should not be criticised.

This isn’t the first time that Sky has shown such sensitivity; earlier this year when the Indian cricket team toured New Zealand, its officials took exception to the fact that Craig McMillan, who is associated with the Indian Cricket League, an unauthorised rival to the Indian board’s Indian Premier League, was a commentator for the one-day series.

McMillan was pulled from the team after the complaint during the fourth one-day tie. He was also supposed to be a commentator for the second Test at Napier, alongside former Indian player Ravi Shastri.

Shastri is said to be the one who raised the red flag about McMillan.

The Indian cricket board is king when it comes to cricket, be it the shorter variety or Test match cricket. The Indian team is a drawcard anywhere in the world given the huge number of Indians who are interested in what is to a large extent a boring game.

This trend has been present for some time – sports bodies trying to control media coverage. In Australia, the Australian Football League (Australian rules football) has tried to dictate terms to the the media.

The AFL has its own official website and supplies official pictures of the players to the media; these pictures cannot be used by online media.

Other sports do try to extract the maximum commercial gain from an event by selling rights to an official media organ – and the sad thing is that the media goes along with this.

Which means that actions like that of Sky TV are partly to be blamed for the sports bodies acting like prima donnas. When principle is thrown overboard, the public tend to get the short end of the stick.

When will advertising come to our ABC?

Everyone in China bribes everyone all the time – presenter Jon Faine on the ABC 774 morning show

The ABC does not do advertising. The ABC does promotions. – Unknown presenter on ABC drive program

THE Australian Broadcasting Corporation is a sacrosanct institution in Australia. Both its employees and the public – who, by estimates, contribute eight cents per head to keep it alive – have a sense of ownership about the corporation.

Given recent trends, the ABC, a service funded by taxes, seems to be gearing up for advertising – even though it would take an act of parliament for it to be able to go ahead. The statements above are just two of many reasons why I think this is on the corporation’s radar.

The first statement is that of a shock jock, a statement designed to tickle the latent feelings against foreigners resident in the underbelly of Australian society. People like Sydney shock-jock Alan Jones use such devices to increase audience share. Nobody else could characterise China, a society of 1.2 billion people, in such a careless manner.

It is also an indication that the ABC has sunk so low that statements like this go unnoticed.

But why should the ABC be bothered about ratings? After all, the public picks up the tab. There is one possible reason: the only TV or radio station that is bothered about ratings is the one that’s looking to attract advertising.

The second statement is pure spin. It seeks to mask the fact that, from dawn to dusk, the ABC has a constant stream of advertising. The ad slots are so numerous that at times, on TV at least, programs begin as much as five minutes behind schedule.

In one way, this saves ABC presenters quite a bit of work. On a given day, there are any number of radio and TV programs which need to be plugged. On Thursday mornings, for example, there is a plug for Insiders, a political talkfest on TV on Sunday.

Never mind if some other political commentator can provide more incisive or erudite commentary, given that Barrie Cassidy presents Insiders, of necessity one has to listen to him.

On Wednesdays earlier this year, one had to endure an interview with someone from the Chaser team – the plug was mandatory as the Chaser team had a TV program on ABC the same night.

The ABC’s ads about its own services apart, there is a constant stream of media releases from the ABC about the same programs sent to other media outlets.

A few months back, when Phillip Adams was interviewing ABC chief executive Mark Scott to mark the latter’s completion of three years in the post, Adams made a telling statement – that there had been little or no controversy during those three years.

Except, of course, the controversy over the Chaser’s now infamous “make a realistic wish foundation” skit.

The fact that Scott’s reign has been free of controversy is again a good omen for advertisers – no advertiser likes controversy of the type the Chaser provides.

Scott’s reaction to the Chaser incident would also have served to reassure any potential advertiser – he doused any possible flame by demoting an executive over what was a perfectly harmless skit. Advertisers love that kind of thing – it means that the man upstairs is sensitive to what causes public controversy and is willing to step in to make the majority happy.

An additional fact to note is that over the last three or four years, there has been a steady change in the type of people who present programs on the ABC; some of the newcomers, like Lindy Burns for example, are so light-headed in their approach as to be silly. But this kind of anodyne, unquestioning approach is precisely what big corporations look for when planning how to spend their media budgets.

For me, what has cemented the conclusion that the appearance of advertising on the ABC is only a matter of time, was the Gruen Transfer on ABC TV. Whether the program was a management idea or came from the head of Wil Andersen is immaterial – it was the ideal vehicle to test how people would react to having what was blatant advertising on the ABC.

No doubt Andersen expected to be able to use his plentiful wit and satire to poke fun at the world of advertising, much in the manner that he did on The Glass House. But he did not factor in the skills of his regular panel members, Russell Howcroft and Todd Sampson, who hijacked the show very cleverly and used it to their own ends.

Though the ABC does try to avoid gratuitously mentioning the names of companies – to the extent that it calls Melbourne’s second football ground Docklands even though the ground’s owners sell naming rights to a different company each year – Howcroft and Sampson managed to get quite a few commercial entities considerable mileage.

The ABC, apparently, was not in any way upset about this, with the only kerfuffle being a ban on showing an ad that it deemed to be too confronting; the ad was available for viewing online. The program did quite well in terms of viewership and that would have been encouraging.

The ABC has a good example in the shape of SBS – the latter has introduced advertising in the same manner that one boils a frog. No doubt the same methods will be resorted to by Aunty a few years down the track.

Personal opinions from a denizen of a land down under.