The Guardian June 6, 2001


Theory and Practice:
Sport and capitalism's highest stage

The profiteering and corruption of monopoly capitalism has entered every 
sphere of human activity and endeavour. The extent of corruption in sport 
has grown in proportion to its control passing into the hands of the 
corporations. It has now become big business with corporate ownership of 
clubs, stadiums, teams and individual sportsmen and women. MARCUS BROWNING 
shows how many of the principles of monopoly capitalism as outlined by 
Lenin apply to the corporatisation and privatisation of sport.

Corruption has now infested the game of cricket. It turns out to involve 
kidnap and murder and is a reflection of its ownership by two of the 
richest media moguls the world has ever seen  Rupert Murdoch and Kerry 
Packer.

Lenin noted in his 1916 examination of monopoly capitalism, Imperialism, 
the Highest Stage of Capitalism, "Tens of thousands of huge enterprises 
are everything, millions of small ones are nothing." How much better when 
the "tens of thousands" are reduced to only a handful!

As a collective activity involving tens of millions of people daily, sport 
is now truly global.

Historically it has been changed and refined, along with its cultural 
siblings in the arts  painting, sculpture, music, film etc  in the wake 
of economic, social, and political change. Its development can be traced 
through slaveholding society (the original Olympics), feudalism, capitalism 
and into the epoch of socialism.

Sport has become an interconnected phenomena, crossing all national 
boundaries and overseen by international bodies. Not only is the Olympic 
Committee an international body but there are international bodies for 
almost every individual sport.

Furthermore, it has been turned into a massive profit-making venture to 
enrich a handful of capitalists who have organised sport so as to exploit 
its specific qualities.

"Cartels come to an agreement on the terms of sale, dates of payment", said 
Lenin. "They divide the markets among themselves. They fix the quantity of 
goods to be produced. They fix prices. They divide the profits among the 
various enterprises."

Because of these developments the International Cricket Council has been 
forced to set up an Anti-Corruption Unit which has set down guidelines and 
made key recommendations.

These include a training program to raise awareness of the risks of 
corruption, the appointment of full-time security managers, a tightening of 
drug policies and there is an assertion that the ICC "must become more 
open, transparent and accountable".

This is not only too little, too late, it is a feeble response to a deep-
seated problem. Without a complete upheaval and a battle along class lines 
to reclaim sport for the enjoyment of sportsmen and women and spectators 
rather than for the profit of the few, it could not be otherwise.

Before the media monopolies got their greedy hands on it, sport had been 
poisoned by big tobacco. The tobacco corporations became major sponsors of 
sport around the world for many decades of the 20th century, including 
cricket.

Sport attracted young people and young people were the target for the 
tobacco corporations. Tobacco's rise to monopoly status began with the 
emergence of the highest stage of capitalism.

Lenin pointed out: "Since its inception, the Tobacco Trust has devoted all 
its efforts to the universal substitution of mechanical for manual labour. 
With this end in view it has bought up all patents that have anything to do 
with the manufacture of tobacco and has spent enormous sums for this 
purpose."

With the emergence of mass circulation newspapers, radio and TV, it was 
inevitable that the media moguls would soon seize on sport as a major part 
of their sales pitch.

The mass interest in sport meant huge circulation increases, lucrative 
profits and also inevitably, the actual ownership of teams and individual 
sportsmen and women by corporations. All this is passed off as a natural 
and desirable situation  as natural as the sun rising and the tides 
turning.

But life is complex and simplistic notions always run up against hard 
realities.

Lenin revealed capitalism's transformation from competition to monopoly and 
drew the conclusion: "The result is immense progress in the socialisation 
of production ... concentration has reached the point at which it is 
possible to make an approximate estimate of all raw materials of a country 

As a result, "Production becomes social, but appropriation remains private. 
The social means of production remain the private property of the few."

So, the great contradiction of capitalism  between the private ownership 
of the means of production and the social nature of the productive forces, 
begins to play itself out towards its resolution.

The hundreds of millions of people around the world who organise and 
participate on the playing fields, in the schools, on the streets or are 
spectator, increasingly come against the small number of powerful 
transnationals which have a stranglehold on the sports clubs, teams, 
stadiums, equipment, clothing and sports institutes.

This criminal plunder, this "natural order of things", is organised by the 
Chief Executive Officers of the corporations, the chairmen of the Boards 
and the major shareholders, plus organised crime, with its paid assassins 
and its gangs of thugs to extort, intimidate and terrorise.

Noted Lenin, "At the basis of these manipulations and swindles lies 
socialised production: but the immense progress of mankind, which achieved 
this socialisation, goes to benefit ... the speculators."

To corner the market in any industry it is necessary to take control of the 
means of production and the raw materials. The raw material in sport is the 
sporting prowess of athletes, particularly the star performers.

They are enticed into lucrative playing and advertising contracts, 
sometimes worth millions. Individual players are bought and sold for huge 
sums as though in the slave markets of old. Then there are the stadiums, 
sports clubs, teams and equipment providers.

"Where it is possible to capture all or the chief sources of raw materials, 
the rise of cartels and formation of monopolies is particularly easy", said 
Lenin.

But in sport? Sounds a lot like Murdoch's takeover of rugby league.

Murdoch has taken hold of as much of this product as possible in most major 
sports around the world via exclusive broadcasting rights.

"The more capitalism is developed, the more strongly the shortage of raw 
material is felt, the more intense the competition and the hunt for sources 
of raw materials throughout the whole world, the more desperate the 
struggle for the acquisition of colonies", said Lenin.

And it is with the demise of colonialism and the emergence of independent 
states and socialist countries that a greater and greater number of the 
world's athletes and sporting teams are coming from the former colonies.

Lenin again: "... the striving for domination and not for freedom, the 
exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by a handful 
of the richest or most powerful nations  all these have given birth to 
those distinctive characteristics of imperialism which compels us to define 
it as parasitic or decaying capitalism."

At the same time, it gives rise to struggle against this domination and 
exploitation. It is the stuff of the long struggle by Souths Rugby League 
Club (the Rabbitos) against its exclusion by the Murdoch-Packer gang. It is 
a people's struggle with all the characteristics of dedication, sacrifice 
and enthusiasm.

This is what underlies the demands for a clean Olympics and for the rooting 
out of corporate corruption.

It is behind the demand of the Cuban Boxing Federation against what it 
claims is "Mafia involvement and corruption evident in unjust rulings and 
the inability [of the International Amateur Boxing Association (IABA)] to 
put a halt to this".

The worldwide movement for clean, corruption-free sport will go on, just as 
the struggle for a peaceful and a prosperous world without the huge gulf 
between rich and poor will go on. It is these objectives which will win out 
in the end.

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