Sport’s Seasonal Disorder

It’s the traditional time of sporting transition from winter to summer in the northern hemisphere but there is no shortage of rightsholders who believe they can defy nature.

At its root, the original Anglo-Saxon notion of sport involves men or women following around a ball of some description on a grass surface. Those sports which require near constant running (football, rugby, field hockey and so on) have historically been played in the winter months because the running keeps you warm, whereas the sports that inevitably lead to a certain amount of standing around (tennis, golf, cricket, baseball) are played in the summer and tend to have to stop when it rains.

Hence the Masters Tournament that took place last week in Augusta, USA was, as always, the first “major” golf event of the season and in England the cricket season has just begun. In Monte Carlo the first outdoor men’s tennis event of the year in Europe is reaching its conclusion.

Sporting rightsholders, who are virtually all based in the northern hemisphere, long ago worked out that they could extend their seasons by hosting events in places with the right climate. For this reason the global tennis season starts in January in Australia and golf’s European Tour goes to such un-European places early in the year as Dubai and South Africa.

So far, so good. But, under pressure in a crowded and competitive calendar, rightsholders sometimes seek to defy nature. The Formula 1 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix in the first week of April was wrecked by a monsoon, which is a fact of life in the early evening in Kuala Lumpur in April. The Daily Mail and others criticised the decision to hold the race at 5pm to suit European broadcasters when a race held earlier in the day would have been less likely to suffer interruptions.

The second season of the Indian Premier League starts today in South Africa. When the event was first conceived it was squeezed into a short window in April and early May in the already over-crowded cricketing calendar. Such is the financial power of the Indian cricket economy that other nations have had to compromise and accept the disruption to their domestic schedules.

Due to recent tragic events in India, the organisers were compelled to move the tournament to another country at a few weeks’ notice. England was ruled out principally because there is too much rain in April to play a packed programme of fixtures. Instead, South Africa has taken on the challenging task of organising a big event with very little time to prepare. Although the weather is likely to be favourable and there is a  strong following for cricket in the country, the regular domestic season has just finished and it remains to be seen if the passion and enthusiasm of last year’s event can be replicated in another part of the world.

In the circumstances, all sports fans will hope that the IPL in South Africa is a success. Nevertheless, other sports rightsholders should take heed that it is a big gamble to host major events out of season and away from their regular home.

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