by Benjamin Marks, Economics.org.au editor-in-chief
Politicians at sporting events attract attention, because, among other reasons: (1) the political world is such a contrast to the sporting world; and (2) they attend precisely to attract attention to themselves or “grandstand”, realising that people prefer politicians who: (a) like sport; (b) have similar interests; (c) have recognisable faces; and (d) they imagine to be easily reachable.
This essay aims, among other things, to have all politicians banned from sporting events and from being involved with sport in any way.
Mutually Agreed Upon Authorities Versus Tyrants
Government is unsportsmanlike and the enemy of fair play. Of course, referees, umpires, trainers and coaches are generally useful in sport, but they are voluntarily agreed upon.
If government were to interfere in sport as it does in other areas of the market, they would be labelled a cheat and killjoy for organising unfair head-starts (subsidies, etc.), handicaps (taxes, etc.) and compulsory training camps with state-approved techniques and trainers for all children, including those who aren’t interested and whose parents do not want them to go (state schooling). Worse, no authority would be receptive to these complaints, since the cheating team would also consist of the referees and administrators.
If government began to play cricket, it would be something like this: Circumnavigate the oval, kill a few outfielders, proceed to the pitch to declare not just the innings and score, but the game, its rules and its outcome. I do not deny that such an event would be amusing, but I do deny that it is justified or sportsmanlike. Yet to play in the Prime Minister’s XI is considered on honour, when really it is an insult to work for such a crook. The PM’s income comes by forcibly taking it off cricketers and other workers. Every cricket match is a raid by government; they take a cut of everything, from ticket sales, to beer, to players’ match income.
For what it’s worth, Edmund Barton, prior to becoming Australia’s first Prime Minister and a founding justice of the High Court, was a cricket umpire. He famously presided over the Sydney Riot of 1879, where the crowd tried to decide a cricket match through democratic means. The crowd rose up against the umpire, not the empire, and invaded the pitch, punched and kicked the players and screamed out “Change your umpire” — ignoring the fact that both teams had already agreed on the rules and umpires before play commenced, essentially claiming that they had the right to eminent domain.
Why does government use force? (I do not mean in extracting tax, for the reason is because people won’t pay it otherwise. I mean, why does government use force in enforcing its rules?) To punish those who have committed crimes is the typical answer. By crimes they mean crimes the government wants to enforce or actions it decides to make criminal. It is like a boxing match where one party makes the rules and is the referee. In fact, it is not meant to be a boxing match, because it is not over who the better fighter is, but whether the winning boxer represents his opponent who does not want to fight and is greatly outnumbered. I do not deny that such a contest could be enjoyable for the audience, if they are malicious enough, but I do deny that it is defensible and that any victim could consent to such an arrangement, which they do not, by definition.
Mutually Agreed Upon Rules Versus Tyranny
Some market activities are dangerous. Boxing and other sports are dangerous. Participants agree to the terms of combat and others participate in other voluntary ways. Lawn-bowlers may not approve, but they do not pretend that it is for them to get in the way of every boxing match. Yet that is exactly what happens in politics: a team of lawn-bowlers — namely, the government — rig boxing matches that only one participant wants to fight.
The sports market has its own voluntary quality controls for steroid usage, weight in boxing and so on. Government does not need to interfere in sport. Should you need government licenses to carry a baseball bat (like you do to carry a gun), to pitch (like you do to drive), to coach (like you do to teach) or to be part of the team (like you do to get married)? If not, why not?
If you want a fair playing field, then avoid unfair and criminal performance-enhancing funding. There is no justice in taxing — that is, forcibly taking money from — one group of athletes or potential athletes for the benefit of another.
No Reason for Government to Subsidise Sport
Many sports people make a living from sport alone. Many make millions of dollars. Many of these millionaires, when they were younger, had their training sponsored by government. How can it be justified? Is lack of support of sport an example of market failure? That is the implicit assumption, yet how can elite athletes be millionaires if there is lack of support? Should all up-and-coming or aspiring millionaires be sponsored by government?
If the government-funded Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) is doing such a good job, then why is it necessary? If it was doing a bad job, then it should be gotten rid of as well. But the AIS is very successful, and many of its athletes have made millions of dollars. Why should taxpayers, including businesses, fund it if these millionaires could easily fund it themselves? If the millionaire-athletes do not want to, then why would taxpayers want to help people like that? It is not as if taxpayers do not need to pay entrance fees in addition, and what about those taxpayers who do not like sport? Where are the cries for “No taxation without free admission to sporting events!”?
When government does subsidise sports training it means that entrepreneurs who wish to use their own money to invest in developing athletes are dissuaded from entering that industry. This is because they would be up against training facilitators with a steady stream of funding that is not derived voluntarily from customer satisfaction and would consequently mean less pressure on performance quality. This in turn would tend to mean even worse results. So government subsidising sport actually has the opposite of the desired effect. As good as the AIS have been, if people really like their work, then privatising it would be the better option. If people do not like their work enough to back it up with their own money, then government is funding it through theft. There is such a thing as being too good or above the optimum or harmonious amount. It is like spending billions of dollars to go to the moon.
It is often said that sport is war. Unfortunately, this is more than just an insincere cliché or metaphor. Sport is considered a matter of national pride, and a chance to represent one’s country. The Olympics and other international sporting contests are an expensive, destructive, frivolous and wasteful use of taxpayers’ money, just like the other areas of a nation’s foreign policy. It is the use of taxpayers funds’ for other people’s games. What we need is a plan for mutual disarmament — that is, competing countries should sign treaties agreeing to limit and eliminate their sports funding. Otherwise, the constant build-up, the constant training and retraining of athletes, and the constant improving of facilities to ward off competitors and triumph over them will never cease, and each country will end up spending more each year just so that they can keep up with the competing country doing the same.
But even if diplomacy fails, then it does not mean that we should automatically declare war. We can always boycott international sporting events, restrict trade with countries that subsidise sport (even though that would punish those who are not involved, including some of those who are already victimised, while making the victims on the side of the original criminals), etc.
Each country likes to flex their sporting muscle on their own soil, just as they like to show off their military might. To continue military expenditure they look around for places to police and show off their military might. If only they could have the security of their colleagues in the sporting world, who have the Olympics every four years, a number of annual National Championships and more, in which to build up into a patriotic campaign of government funding and glorification.
Sports funding is taken for granted. In none of those tedious victory speeches do athletes thank taxpayers. They win at the expense of their own nation’s taxpayers and also other nation’s taxpayers.
Sport Thrives Without Affirmative Action Laws
Black people often complain that they are discriminated against, but in basketball they appear to be overrepresented. Is this just? Of course it is. People who support affirmative action want basketball teams made up of just as many whites and yellows and browns as blacks. This would tend to result in a decrease in performance levels, team morale, discipline, crowd support, etc.
It is true that basketball teams in the National Basketball League (NBL) have import quotas, but these are not to increase the quality of the competition; they are to keep the competition markedly Australian. Whether the NBL have done this in the belief that without large percentages of local players the crowd will not be as supportive, or out of charity to current Australian players at the expense of crowd support (though surely the “home court advantage” of Australian players would be a natural enough benefit and enforcing artificial limits to imports would only provide disincentive for Australian players to improve their game), is beside the point. Because they are a voluntary organisation and teams voluntarily choose to be part of it, whatever rules they put on team composition are justified, even if not beneficial. But when government, a coercive organisation does it, then it is unjust; otherwise why would they use or threaten force among those who never agreed to submit to it in the first place? Basketballers who do not like the NBL administration are free to start their own basketball league.
The salary cap is another relevant issue. Teams, including management and players, have voluntarily agreed to be subject to their sporting administrators. This makes what they agree on just, but not necessarily beneficial. If there was no salary cap, then successful teams would be rewarded more than unsuccessful teams. But isn’t that what success means? Would it destroy the competition or give them more incentive? A salary cap is like saying that you cannot score more than a certain number of points a game. (Not being able to score more than a certain number of points a game would be easier to police, and would encourage more effort on the defensive end. Such a rule would seem odd, like making athletes wear weights, which horses do, but it is amazing how quickly rules that are initially thought to be against the spirit of the game are accepted by the sporting community.)
But isn’t playing according to agreed upon rules what sport is all about? Yes, but these rules are for administrators rather than players. Salary caps prevent players from being paid more and teams from attracting better players. It is not as if they have nowhere else to go except the Australian competition. Many NBL players go to Europe and rugby league players to England, for example. Is it because our crowds are not as supportive as the crowds overseas? Perhaps, but is their relative lack of support due to the inability of club’s to attract and retain big name players due to the salary cap?
Are sports for able-bodied women and the disabled as well supported as sports for able-bodied men? No. Is this wrong? Maybe, but it is not for me or anyone else to decide, except for ourselves. To think that their unpopularity means that they need government sponsorship is to think that authors should be paid for remaindered books by the government. They might be wonderful authors of quality books, but due to lack of intelligence or ability to write anything considered valuable by potential customers, the public had a different opinion. Does this mean that government should step in? No, that would be unjust, because they do not have public opinion on their side, and frivolous, because they would already have the support that government supposedly represents.
Many people complain of the evils of the division of labour, but imagine if a basketball team was run without it. The coach might end up playing or disappearing, the centre might bring the ball up, the referee might play for one of the teams, the cheerleaders might become the referees, even who was on which team would be difficult to determine.
Sport Thrives Without Enforcing IP
Intellectual “property” is shown to be ridiculous too, when you consider the complications associated with copyrighting defences, set-plays, signature-moves, nicknames, names, team chants, etc. Surely a prerequisite of a sporting competition would be that people can see and act on what they have seen. If they wish, of course, players, coaches or trainers can choose to keep something secret until the play-offs, make the offences they are running hard to decipher, etc. By participating and being seen, you would think that attempts to keep things secret would not be legally enforceable. But if our current copyright system were applied to sport, it would change the game for the worse. The referee, for example, would certainly have an enlarged role: he would need to carry a gun and hold constant time-outs with his entourage of lawyers, judges, jurors and Patent Office archivists. The game would be filmed by the police rather than TV stations. And the games would be called by legal commentators.
People often proclaim the importance of separating sport and politics. It is about time we took them seriously. Sports should no longer receive tax money, be taxed or subject to any other government interference. Sport should not be used as a political football.
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