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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

Has sport evolved to playing for money?

Big contracts and expensive cars... is this really what it has come to?

by Tom Molnar

image courtesy of Keith Allison via Google

The world of sport has never been more popular, more entertaining or wealthier than ever. It’s remarkable how sport has developed from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Back then, it was all about playing. No one cared about the glam of playing on a massive pitch in front of thousands of fans, or inside a ring surrounded by celebrities in Las Vegas. As time progressed, more money was brought into the industry and the salaries of athletes got bigger and bigger. Nowadays, money is a key essence in sport and big contracts are seemingly more important than actually playing. Everyone needs a ferociously expensive sports car and a massive mansion because that is the trend in this modern day of sport. 

If there is one sport in particular which money has a huge presence, it’s football. The salaries that some footballers have are ridiculous. For example, in the English Premier League, footballers earn on average over £50,000 a week, which is more than the average UK worker earns in a year. The Professional Footballers’ Association say that in 1957 a top England player would have earned £1,677 a year in wages, bonuses and international match fees. In today’s money, that estimates to about £75,000, which is what some top footballers earn in a week. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar are in the top 5 of the world’s highest-paid athletes of 2018, according to Forbes. Messi and Ronaldo, regarded as two of the greatest footballers of all time, earn over £100 million a year, and PSG winger Neymar earns £90 million a year. These earnings show just how much money the world of football has, but footballers are tending to move to where the money is instead of sticking to one club. For example, Brazilian duo Oscar and Hulk moved to Shanghai SIPG at the top of their game. Oscar had offers from Atlético Madrid and Italy, but he shocked the world by signing with the Chinese club with an Asian transfer record £60 million in December 2016. Shortly before this, Hulk signed with the Chinese club from Zenit for a reported £45 million, earning £320,000 a week. At the top of their game, the two moved to play in a league not at the same level as the two’s abilities. It’s unusual to see footballers nowadays staying at one club for so long, whereas the likes of Manchester United legends Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs played for the club from the early 1990s until 2013 and 2014 respectively, earning a combined total of 1,171 appearances for the side. You just don’t see players like these in the modern day of football. Everyone remembers the shocking 2015-16 Premier League season that saw Leicester City the unexpected champions one season after closely avoiding relegation. The players shocked the world with quality football and togetherness that just couldn’t be matched by any team, even top sides Tottenham and Chelsea. It was revealed that the total price for the Leicester City players that season was only £54.4m, which is eight times less than the price for Manchester City’s players. This shows that money isn’t everything, but some football clubs thrive off of it.

However, other sports are just the same. Athletes all around the world are following where the money is. Following the 2015 Rugby World Cup, New Zealand greats Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu retired from international rugby and moved to French sides Pau and Toulon. Their teammate Dan Carter, regarded as one of the greatest fly halves of all time, went off to Racing 92 following the world cup on a three-year deal worth a reported €1,500,000 a season, making him the world’s highest paid rugby player. It seems a growing trend that rugby players move to France or Japan to play, like former Australian winger Digby Ioane who plays for the Panasonic Wild Knights in the Japanese Top League and previously for Stade Française. Why is it a trend? The simple answer is that there is good money and a nice lifestyle abroad. Up until 2015, a rule was instated that no player from New Zealand, Australia nor South Africa could represent their country if they weren’t playing in the Super Rugby competition on a side from their respective country. Some players left their aspirations of playing internationally to play abroad with more money, which brings up the question: What’s more important? Representing your country or money? Well, it’s apparent that for some, the answer is the latter.

Over in the United States, the three main sports are American football, baseball and basketball, each with a lot of money within. Americans love their sport and thrive off huge signings in the leagues they watch. During the summer, loads of big names moved around. In the National Basketball Association, it was announced that Lebron James, perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time, was to join the Los Angeles Lakers, leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second time. The 33-year-old veteran signed a 4-year contract worth $154 million back in early July, shortly after becoming a free agent. After losing to the Golden State Warriors for a second consecutive time in the NBA Finals, James opted out of his contract to find a team that can give him a fourth NBA title. In the off season of the National Football League, players are always moving around. This year’s, however, was significant because so many big names were brought up. Numerous veteran players signed contracts with new clubs, such as Super Bowl champion corner back Richard Sherman as well as defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. Long-time Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers signed a four-year extension worth $134 million featuring a $57.5 million signing bonus, which makes the 34-year-old the highest-paid player in NFL history, averaging $33.5 million annually. If this is not enough, outside linebacker Khalil Mack left the Oakland Raiders for the Chicago Bear on September 1st, signing a six-year deal worth $141 million. This makes Mack the highest-paid defender in NFL history, with $90 million guaranteed over six years. 

It seems that money is just an object to the sporting community. Money is just thrown around wherever. An example is the infamous KSI-Paul boxing match held back in late August. The two are YouTubers that have had a dispute for some time and settled on a boxing match in Manchester that was live streamed over YouTube, labelled ‘the largest event in YouTube history’. Boxing pundit Steve Bunce said, “They could be walking away with £30 or 40 million each”. The amount of money the two earn from a dispute they had online is extortionate, showing perhaps the tipping point of money in sport. The evolution of money in sport has gotten to a point that is concerning. Think about how much golfers and formula 1 racers earn for a race. Is it really necessary? However, there is some good in sport. Lewes FC is football club that pay the men and women equally. They are the first club to do so, and hopefully not the last. You can’t see major clubs like Arsenal doing this, but it’s a start. Hopefully, in good time, money will grow out of the industry as such a necessity and athletes and clubs will care more about playing than flash and fame.


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