I recently read an article that spoke about the automatic qualifications rules for large sporting events. By that I mean the varied stages at which football clubs enter the FA cup, the set up in snooker where the top 16 players in the world automatically qualify whilst the other 16 places are filled from qualification, and many more.
The article raised the question ‘why do some athletes get special treatment whilst others don’t?’ Would it not make sense for all 32 spaces in a world championships to be filled automatically or fill none and have everyone go through qualification?
It argued that many sporting bodies are only adding an element of qualification, or allowing top athletes an easier route to the final, to increase revenue. If there are qualification stages, there are more chances for TV coverage, advertisement etc. and allowing top players or teams to progress further in a competition increases the chances of large matches with top teams going head-to-head, hopefully attracting larger crowds, increasing the excitement of the sport and thus increasing TV coverage, sponsorship and advertisement.
I don’t think you can disagree that sporting bodies have to look for ways in which to increase revenue. Public sector cuts are almost killing various sports in some countries. If the bodies can self-fund, they have the security they need to build for the future.
But is the article right to point the finger at these qualification rules? In my opinion, absolutely not!
Firstly, who says they’re making any money from qualification? Qualifying rounds in the majority of sports are going to attract smaller crowds, less likely to have TV coverage yet will carry similar costs to the main draw – venue, officials etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if some sports make a loss from this stage of a tournament.
As for the main draw, does it not make more sense to reward the top players? Imagine if no players were given automatic entry into a world championships and all players must first qualify, that takes away the incentive of playing the circuit tournaments throughout the year which are essentially the qualification stages. If you’re one or two places away from automatic entry you will play the extra tournament to get the ranking points, when athletes play more that’s when you can get the sport to grow.
Thirdly, I think this argument falls down when you consider that the automatic qualification rules are in play for many, many junior events. These are very rarely televised, little sponsorship and advertisement. They are there for player development, not as a main revenue stream, therefore if automatic qualification was intended for anything other than fairness and as a positive incentive for athletes, it wouldn’t be used for junior events.
Does all this mean that sport is clean from corruption? Are sporting bodies always acting in the best interest of the athletes? Well we know that’s not true, looks at the likes of FIFA and their current situation.
What’s more concerning for me is the danger that athletes are beginning to compete for the money and not just for the passion. Match fixing, betting on their own results, even through to drug use to gain an advantage. If athletes look for ways to make more money, rather than prove how good they are, then sports can fall down. Sadly it is happening more often and I believe a large number of sporting bodies are hiding the truth from fans as it would destroy the sport’s reputation. Think about it… what incentive does a large sporting body have to expose the world number 1 for steroid use for example… if they do then the sport loses credibility, fans are unhappy, there is negative media. If they don’t, the athlete keeps winning, increasing popularity within their home country and attracting larger sponsors. Perhaps only once they’ve retired will the truth be exposed – look at Lance Armstrong.
It’s no secret that sports and athletes need money to survive, but let’s hope it happens in a fair way that allows us to continue having the spectacle we love.