The other day my dad was sitting and just out of the blue asked me, "Why do these footballers get paid so much money? What do they actually do?" Now, that question resonates with me, because I always get the question as to, "What do investment bankers do? Why do they get so much money?" It is after all investment banker hunting season and bashing the profession and its practitioners seems to be the 'in' thing to do, so I won't go there this time around; that might be a topic of discussion for another day.
... Back to sport and why footballers make so much money. Well, the obvious answer first off is the financial gain that the club or team would get from having a high-profile player on their team. Imagine recruiting a Messi or a Ronaldo to play for your team; what would it do for your team? Draw in millions of additional fans, raise the profile of the club/team and of course generate additional revenues through merchandise sales, etc. The next obvious one is the sheer talent these individuals bring to the party, and therefore the potential of winning a cup or title that comes with that... and of course, then as you start winning titles, your profile rises and the monetary benefits start to flow in.
Other than money, what else? I've never played competitive sport as such. Well, I don't really count the class cricket games we played as competitive. But whatever sport I ever played, I always wanted to win -- people may say that's my personality -- but, if an amateur like me wanted to win, then surely in professional sport, you want to win... And if you want to win, you must have the best... and to get the best, you have to shell out the dough!
For me personally though, it is the pure joy of sport, the emotions that come with it and the lessons that one can learn from sport that make it worth it. I recently watched the highlights of the men's U.S. Open finals between Andy Murray and last year's winner, Novak Djokovic. You thought after the first two sets that Andy had this one in the bag, only to be surprised by the sheer will and resilience of the former champ (I guess you don't become a champ just like that). At the end of it all, I was completely drained; my emotions had ebbed and flowed with the game, swaying from one side to the other, and best of all, I had forgotten everything else out there. My life for those few hours had centered around this single match. Of course, I was sad that Novak didn't pull it off, but I was equally happy for Murray to have clinched his first Grand Slam knowing that in sport, as in life there can be no two #1s. The game brought to the fore qualities of determination, courage, resilience and a never say die attitude, all of these tremendous lessons for life. It showed that there is nothing in this world you can't achieve if you put your mind to it.
I pick on tennis and this one game, but over the years there have been many such instances in sport that have brought us tremendous joys, and taught us valuable lessons. I'm thinking of India's 1983 surprise World Cup win, Lance Armstrong's fight against cancer to return to the top of the cycling world, Monica Seles' return to the sport after being stabbed on court... And the list goes on. If for nothing else, these athletes deserve every penny they get for just putting themselves out there, day in and day out.
Across India, during cricket matches, one often sees a banner in the stands that reads "Cricket is a religion, and Sachin [Tendulkar] is a God." Well, if we're willing to raise the profile of our sporting heroes to that of a God, surely a charitable donation to these Gods may not be that unreasonable...