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Pirates of the Thames

Submitted by Rick Eyre on January 28, 2012 - 12:30pm

Two items from the sportsbiz world caught my eye this week, both coming from the UK.

From London's Olympic Delivery Authority comes the news that boats transporting passengers in the vicinity of London's Olympic Park will be exempt from advertising restrictions during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. This is despite that the fact that these waterways encroach on the "exclusion zone" for non-sponsor advertising as defined by the ODA.

insidethegames.biz reports that boats that usually operate on those waterways for the purpose of transporting members of the public can continue to do so and display their own advertising from non-games sponsors, "even though they will be seen by a potential television audience of several billion".

Meanwhile, from the England and Wales Cricket Board, comes a stark warning delivered by its chairman Giles Clarke about the biggest threat to the future of world cricket. It is... pirate websites.

The Telegraph on Thursday reported Giles telling as saying that the ECB and its broadcasters (BBC, Sky) closed down seven hundred sites illegally streaming broadcast footage of last summer's Tests against India.

"These pirate broadcasters are the biggest danger to cricket because they take money out of the game without commercial benefit to the sport," Clarke said.

A bigger danger than match fixing, it seems. Bigger than illegal gambling, bigger than rogue Texan businessmen with impossible promises, bigger than an ever-growing diet of Twenty20 "premier leagues". Bigger, even, than the Decision Review System!

Blame it on the pirates, says Giles.

The truth is, I believe, that the biggest threat to sport is Big Sport itself. Both stories are signs of the madness that is the steps Big Sport will take in protecting its revenue. The ODA deserves credit for allowing public transport systems to maintain their own income streams from existing advertisers. But why do we have all this talk of "Exclusion Zones"?

Exclusion Zones are sterile areas that are set up in the name of health or security. Protection against terrorist threats, protection against infectious disease. That's what Exclusion Zones are for.

Exclusion Zones to protect against ambush advertisers? The Olympic movement has drifted a long long way from Baron de Coubertin's original ideals if we accept such a loss of proportion in our values in the 21st century.

While Giles Clarke seems happy to take his corner of Big Sport into bed with Big Entertainment - those governments and corporations who feel that the only way to regulate the internet is by shutting down whatever is necessary. Totalitarianism to protect free-market capitalism. The attempts - deferred for now - to put the SOPA and PIPA bills into law in the United States being just two examples.

The best way for Clarke and the ECB to deal with internet piracy is to treat these pirates as if they were legitimate commercial competitors. And defeat them in the marketplace. The ECB (and other boards) hold all the aces to do this, they simply need to produce the best product and make it available to all corners of the globe.

Meanwhile, as the date for Mervyn Westfield's sentencing approaches, let's not lose sight of what really are the biggest problems affecting the future of cricket.