Sport and Pictures: the Over-Simplification of Power

The news is like being buzzed and occasionally badly stung by a cloud of wasps. There is too little time to react to each sting, to consider how to prevent them, before the next and the next. The news is a series of events – shootings, floods, fires, droughts, famines, crashes, explosions, unexpected deaths, race wins, tournaments, knock-outs, election successes, election losses.

The cameras speed in, speed out, and capture for a few televised minutes the impacts of prior decisions without properly interrogating those critical decisions. The occasional bit of ‘good news’ is put in to try and cheer us all up, but is often over-dramatised with hyperbole, such as Bradley Wiggins’ victory in the Tour de France being labelled ‘the greatest ever sporting achievement by a Briton’[1]. A wonderful achievement for Mr Wiggins personally, but brought about by the complex support system that builds a top modern cycling brand.

The visual age ushered in by cinema and then by television has, I think, made it harder for us to think in abstract terms. We praise people and we blame people in circumstances that they do not control, because we can visualise people but not ‘circumstances’ or ‘systems’.

Bradley Wiggins is British cycling at its best, but Mr Wiggins – or Wiggo as even the BBC has called him – did not assemble the money that has made the Sky team he rides for, or British cycling overall, so successful. Money achieved the fine-tuning of bicycle and kit design, money paid for the coaches, the nutritionists, the physiotherapists and the other highly qualified back-room experts. Who sponsors the Sky cycle team? News Corporation is a sponsor.[2] Who heads News Corporation? The chairman and chief executive is Rupert Murdoch, as we all well know.

Professional sport is about marketing, marketing is about brands, brands are owned by corporations, and corporations’ power is hijacking governments around the world. The ‘Monsanto coup’ in Paraguay last month is a current example.

We can’t see ‘power’ on our TV screens, and so we tend not to look for it. That means we let it grow, unseen, while we concentrate on people, their prowess, fame, fashion and lifestyle. While they can do amazing things, they – we—are the visual manifestations of the networks of money and power that are hidden from sight and thus also hidden from accountability.

When we say ‘We need to see the bigger picture’, we are identifying a problem: we can’t see context because it is not a picture, but a synthesis of complex and inevitably incomplete understandings.


[1] ‘Bradley Wiggins on verge of Britain’s greatest sporting achievement ever’ says Chris Hoy’, www.telegraph.co.uk, July 21st 2012.

[2] Statement in ‘Sky and Jaguar laud Bradley Wiggins’ historic cycling win’, by Daniel Farey-Jones, www,marketingmagazine.co.uk, July 23rd 2012.

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