What's the worst idea in sport?
At first glance this is one of those impossible questions, such as, "What's the most unhealthy packet of cigarettes?" or, "What's the least intelligent single-cell amoeba?" This is, after all, sport, where pretty much every idea is a bad idea and where no idea can exist in isolation from the usual flaring, parping carnival of self-interest.
Modern sport is basically a gold-rush town, a cowboy republic of TV rights bonanzas and sponsorship hauls, given a veneer of organisational credibility by blazers and buffet tables and grandiose presidential job titles. And still the bad ideas kept coming this year: golf at the Olympics, the Bahrain grand prix, renewed displays of racism in football, and pretty much anything to do with the cricketing authorities in India.
But really, for the worst of sport, it is necessary to come back to football, and to football's best friend, money. The worst idea this year belongs to Russian Premier League club Anzhi Makhachkala, who have spent the last 12 months paying Samuel Eto'o his first full-year salary of more than £17m, the highest player wages yet recorded. Before tax (though also before endorsements), this breaks down to almost £1.5m a month.
There are those who will say this is simply the market in action and that these entertainers deserve whatever we are willing to pay, but this is a bungled and distorted kind of market. Anzhi are a self-supporting oligarch's plaything, pet concern of billionaire Suleyman Kerimov, their unsustainable overspend played out against Dagestan's poverty, violence and local gangsterism. This is prosperity built not on success, but on the excesses of one man.
If the salary paid to Eto'o – a fine player who is blameless in this – is the most obvious extreme, 2012 was a year when the tendency to spend ruinously at the top of football was widespread. Paris St Germain, now owned by the fiscally incontinent Qatar Investment Authority, signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic this summer on an annual salary of £13m. Our own Manchester City announced losses of £197m this year, the biggest in football history. But they also won the Premier League, so who cares?
All that seems certain is that it will be necessary to spend more – so much more – to continue to succeed, despite the paper tiger of Uefa's impending financial fair play rules, the kind of well-meaning regulation no super-rich person worthy of his impala-skin underpants has ever lost much sleep over.
And so the worst decision in sport this year belongs to football: the decision simply to carry on being football, a sport not merely concentrating its resources at the elite end while its audience disintegrates into sedentary and alienated consumers, but also in danger of making itself so much less than it once was, of fatally, and very expensively, depleting its own basic interest.
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