Football shoots, cricket scores
The connection between a miffed French newspaper editor, Wolverhampton Wanderers and the Champions League Twenty20 is unlikely to be readily apparent to all.
But it exists nonetheless. The story starts with Gabriel Hanot, who was capped a dozen times by France as a footballer before an aviation accident forced him to limp down the less glamorous avenue of journalism.
For a time after World War II, he lived a complicated life as both a reporter and coach of the French national team. The double trouble caught up with him in 1949, when his team was thrashed by Spain. What else could Hanot do but write an editorial, unsigned, calling for his own resignation? A day later, he duly resigned.
In fact, the saga of the debt cricket owes to football began a year earlier with the Campeonato Sudamericano de Campeones, the forerunner of the Copa Libertadores. As editor of Le Equip, Hanot published enthusiastic reports from South America that waxed wonderful about the notion of a tournament that dared to pit the finest clubs from different countries against each other.
Then, in 1953, Wolves took the breathtaking step of installing floodlights at Molineux. They followed that by playing several friendlies against quality opposition. A South African XI, Argentina's Racing Club, Spartak Moscow, and Honved of Hungary all came, saw and were conquered. More significantly, they were seen to be conquered on the BBC in some of the first matches to be broadcast live on television.
In the most enduring traditions of the British press, Wolves were promptly proclaimed "Champions of the World". Across the Channel in Paris, that assertion stung Hanot's Gallic pride like a recklessly tossed gauntlet. "Before we declare that Wolverhampton Wanderers are invincible, let them go to Moscow and Budapest," he thumped out on his typewriter. "And there are other internationally renowned clubs: AC Milan and Real Madrid to name but two. A club world championship, or at least a European one -- larger, more meaningful and more prestigious than the Mitropa Cup (an earlier international event for clubs) and more original than a competition for national teams -- should be launched."
Hanot's flaming arrow found its target, and in 1955-56 the first European Cup kicked off. What we have come to know as the UEFA Champions League final now shares with the NFL's Superbowl the distinction of being the world's most watched annual sporting event, keeping more than 100 million viewers on their couches.
Most of which is probably old news to the wheelers and dealers who crafted the Champions League T20 for their remuneration and our edification. Now that cricket has engineered a mutant format of itself sexy enough to give football a run for its money in the global goggling stakes, it follows that a game that was once the preserve of amateur grandees should make it count where it counts: in the profit column.
The total prize money for the second edition of the Champions League T20 is US$6m. The winners will take home $2.5m and the runners-up $1.3m. Semi-finalists will earn $500 000 each, and teams who get no further than the group stages will bank $200 000.
But before we think that puts cricket and those who earn their crust in its service in the pound seats, consider the staggering fact that Inter Milan were paid $11.48m for beating Bayern Munich 2-0 in the 2010 UEFA Champions League final. That translates into $5.74m per goal, or $127, 556 per minute. Even teams who were trying to qualify for the competition proper had their coffers boosted to the tune of $2.68m each.
That's right, sportslovers: this year's UEFA Champions League wannabes each earned $168,000 more than the purse that will go to the team that triumphs at the Champions League T20.
And just when we thought cricket was playing ball with the big boys. In truth, the big boys won't need pointing out to anyone who saw the madding crowd of more than 33,000 that flooded the street outside the Wanderers in Johannesburg in June to watch Portugal play Mozambique in nothing more significant than a World Cup warm-up match.
Or, if you see things as Tony Irish, the chief executive of the South African Cricketers' Association, is duty bound to see them: "The money in a particular sport is a direct result of the number of people who watch it. In India, that number is huge but in other countries it's miniscule compared to those who watch football."
The Indocentric environment in which modern cricket operates and prospers is also felt in other ways. "We did about as well as we could when the television rights for the CLT20 were sold (for $975m to ESPNStar for 10 years)," Irish said, "but a lot of that money is ploughed back into India, and there are only three Indian teams in the tournament."
But spectators at South Africa's major cricket stadiums and the comparatively "miniscule" audience in India and elsewhere tuning in for the Champions League T20 has reasons to be cheerful that they are not watching football.
For a start, they are unlikely to have to endure any scoreless matches. Also, players will not feign fatal injury at the slightest real or imagined physical contact with an opponent. Anyone who treats an umpire like footballers invariably treat their referees is likely to be smacked upside the head by a large fine, a suspension, merciless booing for the rest of the tournament, or all of the above.
And, perhaps best of all, there won't be any yobs straining their ample bellies against replica Manchester United/Arsenal/Chelsea/Liverpool/Spurs/Man City football shirts as they demand bacon butties and chips 'n egg from sushi chefs. Oh, to be in South Africa now that no English teams are here.
Ah, cricket: smaller than football, but to many - notwithstanding match-fixing, rain, the unbearable dullness of most limited-overs matches, greedy administrators, egotistic administrators, power-hungry administrators, actually, administrators, period, and, of course, opinionated reporters - far closer to being perfectly formed.
Telford Vice is a freelance cricket writer in South Africa