New Zealand’s World Cup triumph means the All Blacks have once again proved themselves as the best rugby team on the planet, Stuart Ward and James Sproston debate whether dominance in sport should be celebrated, or whether it takes away a certain edge from a fan’s perspective.
Why does the idea of a one-sided sports game sound so unappealing? To a neutral, it may be so, but to an individual who loves the specific sport, it can actually be a source of thrills and wonderment. To be able to marvel at the complete dominance of one team over another, or one team over an entire sport, is a rarity and should therefore be celebrated.
Let us take a recent example; the New Zealand Rugby Team. While the Web Ellis cup has changed hands so often over the years, the recent World Cup demonstrated New Zealand’s almost unopposed domination of International rugby over the past couple of years and the tournament. New Zealand were thrilling in their domination of the tournament and justified their status as being the favourites and the fairy tale stories of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter and the unbelievable act of generosity by Sonny Bill Williams won our hearts.
However, despite the clear signs that the winner may have been decided, huge swathes of us still watched the tournament with wide eyed wonder. Who could forget the thrilling game between Japan and South Africa? Or the terrible performance of the host nation? The fact that the tournament favourites won the tournament in such dominant fashion is merely a side note that doesn’t diminish the spectacle of the sport.
“fairy tale stories of McCaw and Carter and the unbelievable act of generosity by Sonny Bill Williams won our hearts”
For any fan of the Premier League, or football in general, the 2003-04 Premier League season will live long in the memory. With the likes of Patrick Viera, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry gracing the pitch, it was completely understandable that Arsenal would dominate the league; but going unbeaten maybe wasn’t expected.
There was a fluidity and ruthlessness to Arsenal’s football that has rarely been replicated by any other team in any league to follow. And yes, it was fairly clear midway through the season that Arsenal would emerge victorious, but that didn’t stop people tuning it to watch one of the greatest teams of all time play their unique brand of high pressure, high scoring and clinical football.
Domination of a sport can also lead to numerous statements off the pitch as well. The West Indies Cricket Team for example. From February 1980-February/March 1995, the West Indies Cricket team didn’t lose a single test series. 15 years of domination. This domination started in the mid/early 70’s, during a time of great political and social upheaval in the Caribbean. Often, the only thing an individual of Caribbean descent could brag about in England was the success of their cricket team and it was quite a thing to brag about.
With a team that started out as a group of “calypso cricketers” to a team that simply annihilated any team they faced, it is thrilling to imagine and a team that came to house some true legends of the game. Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall; all fast bowlers that could bowl over 90mph and decimate any star studded batting line up. Combine that bowling attack with the likes of Gordon Greenidge and the master blaster himself Viv Richards, and it is easy to see how they simply blew teams away.
Moreover, the infamous “Blackwash” series against England, where the West Indies beat England so mercilessly that the term whitewash was overruled. Why is this domination necessarily a bad thing? Without that notorious team during that period, world cricket may not have been the same as it is today.
Yes, one sided sports games can be boring if they’re a singular event. Often they’re anticlimactic and lead to one having a sense of missing out, however if a team dominates a sport as a whole, that can be the gateway to some exceptional memories and some equally exceptional sporting moments. And these teams that dominate the sport often possess some of the greatest players of their respective sport. So to see these players at the height of their powers, in a team that has reached the optimum levels of efficiency and performance is a combination that will leave any sports fan shivering with delight.
Sport is ruined by dominant teams. No one likes a predestined outcome. It’s no surprise that the Premier League is the most watched league in the world. It’s a place where any team can be beaten by another. Likewise with the ‘magic’ of the FA Cup. No one would ordinarily watch Salford City against Notts County but because it’s the FA Cup, and the underdog might just win, it’s on national television.
Truthfully, did anyone ever really doubt that New Zealand would win the World Cup? It was more scripted than a Ben Fogle nature programme. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who stopped watching once England went out and I’m sure that I wasn’t the only person who thought that this World Cup was yet another disappointment. It was much like Spain’s period of dominance in world football from 2008 to 2012. I can safely say I’ve not enjoyed an international tournament since 2006, chiefly because on three occasions it was clear who was going to win. Spain dominated because of their low possession-based football, which sucked the life out of the international game.
“the league structure discourages investment and rewards success”
Individual dominance may raise the profile of sports, but it raises the profile of the individual more. Before the recent revelations, Lance Armstrong was synonymous with cycling and now because his reputation has been tarnished, so has that of the sport, cheers Lance. Similarly Tiger Woods was the face of golf for over a decade, but once his personal struggles were exposed, the credibility of the once loved golf pro has seemingly vanished.
Formula 1 has also seen team dominance. Most recently Mercedes have been largely unchallenged, much like Red Bull before them and Ferrari even longer before that. Not only have these teams been dominant, but more often than not, there is usually one driver that dominates. Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher to name but a few. Almost all F1 fans will say that the 2010 season was the best in recent memory. Going into the last race in Abu Dhabi, four drivers could have won the title, from three different teams. People value that kind of competitiveness.
Let’s be honest, most people would rather melt their eyes with a Bunsen burner than watch most sports films. They’re scripted, so much so that you can usually predict the outcome before you’ve even seen it. Coach Carter and Rush are probably the only two sports films worth a mention but that’s because the underlying stories actually transcend the respective sport action in each film. I mean, I’m not going to watch Goal again in a hurry, nor Goal 2, and don’t even get me started about Goal 3. I should enjoy them because they’re about football, but just watching the highlights of the 2011/12 Premier League season is enough for me because that really happened and it wasn’t predicted.
It’s been said that it’s a very British outlook to knock the best, and support the underdog, which is perhaps why we don’t produce very many sporting greats. In response I’d say that while one purpose of sport is to see the bar pushed higher and the boundaries exceeded, ultimately sport should be a spectacle.
Look at the Scottish Premiership. Firstly, who watches it? Pretty much no one. Hence why there’s a lack of TV money for those teams, whilst English Premier League teams are now being rewarded for playing exciting football. Secondly, in theory it should lead to other teams matching that excellence. In actual fact, only the Old Firm teams have won the league (since its creation in 1998), with the last four being won by Celtic, who are likely to continue that run this season.
“it’s a very British outlook to knock the best, and support the underdog”
Likewise the German Bundesliga is hugely predictable. Despite the German football style being touted as the most entertaining in the world, it regularly falls behind the Premier League in global viewership. Why? Because we know that Bayern Munich will win. This is primarily because the league structure discourages investment and rewards success. Meaning the winning teams can financially outmuscle all the other teams in the league. Hence why Bayern have consistently recruited the best players from the other Bundesliga teams, two of which being Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund.
Fundamentally sport should be a spectacle. Just like the best films have a great twist, sport should not be predictable. Dominant teams in sport may well ‘breed excellence’, but as a fan I’d take entertainment over excellence any day. In my eyes, the competitive nature of sport is the unique element that makes it so special.