Sportswashing: the Wisden writing competition gets serious

Wisden Cricketers´ Almanack has made its annual appearance, number 160. 1616 pages, ultra small print, thin paper and the familiar yellow dust jacket. The Writing Competition is now in its 11th appearance and the winning entry is a new departure. Previous winners have focused on reflections of the past, sometimes nostalgic, occasionally humorous. A Duncan Hamilton approach. It´s taken an Australian (predictably?) to buck the trend. Dan Crowley (tweets at @dancrowley99) goes behind the scenes and brings some ethical thoughts into the global game:

Gone are the days when sport ads target actual consumers, flogging products we can buy at a shop. Now it´s an exercise in sportswashing, using the exposure of a major sporting event to target abstract concepts such as legitimacy, authenticity and trust.

His particular gripe is with Aramco, the Saudi Arabian fossil fuel company (as well as alcohol and betting companies), a sponsor of the ICC and IPL. He applauds Pat Cummins´ refusal to take part in ads for Atlinta, a major carbon emitter and sponsor of Australia’s Test shirts, as it conflicted with his activism on climate change. Crowley concludes:

Hopefully this is the way of the future, and more players, fans and administrators will have the courage to call out cricket´s unethical sponsorship deals.

This is the first time the competition winner has tackled a current topic. He certainly hit a nerve. Lawrence Booth (@BoothCricket) in his Editors´ Notes writes ” Despite its monstrous carbon footprint, international cricket has behaved as if the climate emergency is someone else´s problem“. Tanja Aldred has a full article on cricket and the environment (predictably the Daily Torygraph dismisses this: “if you crave the woke, about the game and climate change”). Crowley would have written before the competition closing date of October 2022: He was not to foresee the news (and neither did Booth or Aldred) that Saudi Arabia is bringing its sportswashing to cricket nor that Yorkshire is seeking Saudi money to stave off bankruptcy (or even worse the return of Graves).

As an aside it looks like the majority of first class counties in England and Wales have local shirt sponsors with only one stand out (Gloucestershire have the Cayman Islands). And England have a used car company.

As for the competition itself, Crowley wins with his debut entry. That makes 9 out of 11 first-time winners. Nonetheless some doggedly plough on. The three “always present” entrants remain: Paul Caswell, David Fraser and David Potter. Five more have tried unsuccessfully 9 or more times. This year 109 entered with 8 using the full allowance of two entries.Two-thirds are first timers. The entry level is down on the bumper (COVID) year of 2020 with 193 entries. Only three first timers from that year have played every time since.

The competition still attracts fewer entries than the parallel photographic competition (almost 500 entries). But its first prize of £1,000 is financially more attractive. The writing competition now offers a credit of £250 to spend at Crowley´s winning entry this year opens the doors for more to tackle contemporary topics, perhaps even controversial. You have until the end of October 2023 to send in your 480 words!