Morphing sport into a tawdry shambles

SHOWBIZ: Jaime Ridge will box Rosanna Arkle tonight.
SHOWBIZ: Jaime Ridge will box Rosanna Arkle tonight.

Parasites and leeches are nothing new in sport.

Dishonesty, bribery and nepotism are now almost passe.

Fortunately in New Zealand, incidences are few and far between.

The odd rumour surfaces of an extraordinary result at a country race meeting. It's generally explained away as an anomaly.

But international incidences of match-fixing and vote-buying taint the sport sector's image even back here, to the point we're inured to it - the morphing of sport into a tawdry shambles.

That can be the only explanation for the general acceptance of tonight's (dare I speak its name) Godfather of All Fight-Nights, a pay-per-view money-making machine for former rugby league international Dean Lonergan.

The card features Shane Cameron and Monte Barrett, top former amateur Joe Parker, and yes, boxers Rosanna Arkle and Jaime Ridge.

Hats off to Lonergan. He may be a sporting pimp, but he's a highly successful one.

He provides a market with what they want: escapism in the warmth of their own homes.

Never mind the fact he's provided us with watertight evidence boxing is a sham and, what's more, is waving it in our faces with great audacity. We're too busy ogling the show.

Therein lies the lesson that got me thinking (segue warning) about something closer to home this week: all those terribly damning unsold seats at the Crusaders versus Hurricanes game last Saturday night.

It's become, if it wasn't already, abundantly clear most of us now refuse to show up to a rugby match in near sub-zero conditions even though the footy is gripping and of high quality. We have better things to do.

But this seems beyond the comprehension of our city leaders, who want to build a 35,000-seat uncovered stadium in Christchurch.

Putting aside the roof debate for a second, 35,000 seats is far too big if the Crusaders can't sell 20,000 tickets for a Hurricanes clash.

Anything bigger would lose AMI Stadium's best asset - its intimacy.

It's also abundantly clear a stadium without a roof no longer meets with public expectation of what a rugby ground should be - comfortable rather than freezing bloody cold.

I, more than anyone, want to see a new sporting facility in this city, but we might as well stick with what we've got if Bob Parker's flawed alternative is the only option.

Why bother?

The same could be said of my mates in the racing industry who this week announced they are going to try to reboot the Show Day race meeting during New Zealand Cup week.

Their solution is to carve 400 metres off the feature race in a bid to attract better horses; a move so lacking in inspiration and inadequate in terms of a reboot that we should now hold genuine fears for New Zealand Cup day itself.

The reason why people flock to the track on the Tuesday is to associate themselves with a bit of racing glamour, a powerful brand that Addington trades off but does little to enhance with its booze-peddling ways.

The racing industry is in dire straits and it is easy to see why when you get treated like a criminal on the way into Riccarton on the Saturday of carnival week, greeted by police with alcohol breath-testers at 10am.

It's a massive turnoff, as is the fact you can't take your kids to the track. We expect to be able to take our kids to the track in the summer. Most of us get one chance a year.

For this to happen on their watch is shameful, and the Canterbury Jockey Club's argument that this is the work of liquor licensing authority wowsers is too little, too late.

Lonergan understands half-measures do not work in sport any more.

While it is admirable to preserve sporting values and traditions, professional entities need to embrace the commercial imperatives of the entertainment industry.

If that means making a bit of noise, then so be it.

You'll hear plenty tonight at the boxing.

The Press