C’mon, time to rebrand your life!

Sport today seems obsessed with image, repackaging, pursuing profit. What ever happened to the sport

The year before England won the 1966 World Cup, I interviewed the team's captain, Bobby Moore. Having not long arrived from the Antipodes, where "soccer" was a minority sport beloved by Italians and Croats, I did not have a clue about the game. Nevertheless, I had been assigned to write a "human-interest" piece by the same convivial assistant editor who had hired me, believing, because I was Australian, that I could play cricket and so assist the Daily Mirror team in its grudge match against the Express. I could swim and row and had done time in a rugby scrum, but cricket, no. (He forgave me.)

I met Bobby Moore outside West Ham Tube station, and we walked round the corner to a greasy spoon that was filled with Woodbine fug. People beamed and shook his hand, reinforcing my impression of a gracious and modest man. Here was a star in every sense - talent, looks, fame - and yet he seemed genuinely surprised by the fuss. In the queue for tea and coffee, he patiently engaged an elderly fan who was hard of hearing. When I unwisely feigned knowledge of the game, he let me down gently. As we parted, he said, "Look, this is a bit embarrassing, but I've got this agent and he's asked me to ask for 50 quid for the interview." I said I would pass it on to my editor; I don't know if he was paid, and I doubt if he cared.

I remembered Bobby Moore when I read about another sports star, Lleyton Hewitt, the Australian tennis seed and famed air-puncher. For all his classy, often tireless play, Hewitt's behaviour on court has always been difficult to watch because he gives the impression that only he matters. His aggressive "C'mon!" and fist-pumping are his trademark, literally. He is not merely a tennis player; he is Brand Hewitt, and Lleyton Hewitt Marketing Pty Ltd (LHM) owns the rights to two "C'mon" logos.

No logo

Lleyton Hewitt Marketing recently suffered a defeat against a sports fan in Australia, Josh Shiels, who since 2004 has used "Come-on" to promote his struggling sportswear business. In a statement, LHM said that it has no problem with other parties owning trademarks in­corporating "C'mon" and "Come On"; however, having been "threatened" by Shiels and asked to "surrender" its own trademarks, it requested that the Trade Marks Office cancel the one registered to Shiels on the basis that he failed to use it.

At an intellectual property hearing in Canberra, Shiels said that his wife and daughters had designed the logo and his business had sold "about ten shirts". He pointed out that "come on" had been a popular catchcry in Australia since World Series cricket began in the 1970s; there was even a song.

The hearing officer decided that, however meagre Shiels's business, he had the right to make use of the words. Shiels is left fearing that he will face a rematch.

The stark contrast between Bobby Moore and Brand Hewitt is telling. Today, it seems that no idea, no event, no talent, no personality, no resource of nature has value unless it is owned and branded. When the public water supply of Bolivia's second city, Cochabamba, was sold off to a foreign consortium, rainwater was included. The clouds became the property of multinationals - until the people fought back, and won.

The pursuit of profit in sport now seems unrelenting. Having said goodbye to foreign sports writers and their platitudinous eulogies for the "rainbow nation", the South African treasury reckons it put $5bn into the World Cup, while corporate sponsors took home more than $4bn in tax-free profits. All those corporate parties, free tickets, kickbacks and other "gifts" merely indulged a post-apartheid elite that presides over the most inequitable society on earth.

Since 2008, following the feverish building of stadiums, several of them unnecessary, more than a million people have lost their jobs. In
the wake of the World Cup, 1.3 million public-sector workers have taken strike action for a living wage. The South African police now have paramilitary powers comparable with those they had in the apartheid era.

A new Protection of Information Bill currently before parliament will conceal the corruption of the ruling African National Congress wabenzi (identifiable by their large silver Mercedes). "If journalists have to be fired [or go to prison] because they don't contribute to the South Africa we want," said an ANC spokes­man, "let it be."

City of dreams

In India, a similar rebranding is under way for next month's Commonwealth Games. In the country that has most of the world's malnourished children, the capital, Delhi, has been rebranded a "world-class city" at a cost of $2.5bn. A school for 180 slum children has been bulldozed so that a vast estate of luxury apartments can be built for visiting athletes.

“They told us we were a security threat so we had to go," said the head teacher. "All my children were crying." It is one of many demolitions; over 100,000 families have been evicted to make way for "security zones" around the Games and facilities that will mostly benefit India's small but powerful managerial and technocratic class which, besotted with all things corporate, prefers not to be reminded that 77 per cent of its compatriots are dirt poor.

Corporate sport has enriched Rupert Murdoch, corrupted cricket and much of football, subverted numerous other games, and appropriated the Olympics and similar spectacles.

Its language is that of business schools, PR companies, consultancies and banks. Its "philosophy" is that everything is for sale and monopoly rules. Just wear the logo, pump your fist and bellow, "C'mon!"