Cow Corner

Fans again treated disgracefully amid ECB-Pietersen farce

Sports fans are the last ones to know anything - we all know this. That is not the way it should be, but it will always be that way.

There are countless examples of how the key people in professional sport - the fans - are shamefully neglected, and considered unworthy of honest and frank information.

Rarely has this ever been quite so obvious as it currently is with the Kevin Pietersen saga. The ECB have unceremoniously disposed of their greatest on-field asset without so much as a cursory explanation.

What has been made quite clear is that the England management either cannot or do not want to manage Pietersen. He has been made the scapegoat of the humiliating tour of Australia, so much so that his international career is now over.

In no other line of work would this be considered even remotely acceptable - the player himself not even seeming to have the faintest clue as to what he has done that is so grossly intolerable.

But while experts, former pros and commentators have bombarded the airwaves with their condemnation of the governing body's treatment of a distinguished great of the game, little thought has been given to the people to whom the game is forever indebted: the fans.

How does a parent explain to a young child to whom Pietersen is a hero that the leading run scorer in Australia, and the most talented player of his generation, has been treated with sudden and unexplained expulsion while at the top of his game?

And who now will fancy paying £70+ to watch England's hapless underperformers pick up the pieces? Especially considering that the only questions the players will be asked after the game will be about the decision of the suits above them, rather than their own displays. English cricket has suddenly become a very difficult sell indeed.

What is without question now is that Paul Downton - the man tasked with conducting a thorough review of the English game, but who has yet to appoint a successor to former team director Andy Flower despite making huge decisions in advance - must provide a detailed explanation of exactly why Pietersen has been cast aside.

Along with Ashley Giles, the unconvincing favourite to succeed Flower, and beleaguered captain Alastair Cook, Downton owes the public a frank and thorough justification of his decision at the very least.

This is no casual decision made regarding a fringe or development player that few people in the country care to be fully informed about; this is the best England batsman to emerge for well over a decade who, at the age of just 33, has seen his dreams dashed.

It is no exaggeration to say that Downton effectively storming into a new office and clearing desks has got the nation talking. Indeed, even Prime Minister David Cameron has described Pietersen as an "amazing man".

But perhaps Ian Botham put it best (yes, really) when he recognised who this decision will damage the most, besides Pietersen himself: "I'm baffled, exasperated and disgusted the England and Wales Cricket Board think they can get rid of Kevin Pietersen, issue a statement full of corporate waffle, and hope everyone will forget about it," he told the Daily Mirror.

"If you sacked a factory worker on the shop floor without telling him why he's been fired, he would take his employers to the cleaners through the courts. The ECB can't just hide behind their blazers and wait for the fuss to die down. They can't leave everyone to speculate why England have ditched one of their finest players.

"They owe the paying public, the fans who spend £100 on a ticket to home Test matches, a reason why they have discarded the star attraction. They owe the punters who spend their life-savings to follow England halfway round the world, only to see them get hammered 5-0, more than a fudged statement."

But that is exactly what the long-suffering paying public have received: nothing more than lawyer-composed drivel and national selector James Whitaker admitting in an appallingly world-weary manner that it was indeed a "tricky decision".

"That is a legal position and at the moment I'm not at liberty to say," Whitaker said with a sickly smile when asked about Pietersen's exile by Sky Sports News.

Whitaker's phone conveniently appeared to ring at that precise moment and the interview was temporarily suspended, before he was grudgingly prepared to add: "Unfortunately I'm not in a position to reiterate what reasons there have been."

Sports fans have to put up with a great deal, but sometimes the lack of respect they receive from authorities within the game is disgusting.

Players all too often talk candidly 'off the record' to journalists then complain bitterly when the media respond with scepticism to their 'on the record' contradictory platitudes.

Equally, the lack of sincerity and insight provided by the boardroom brigade when it's the fans at the other end of the interview is often very counter-productive for the growth of any game.

It is not much different to the fact that so many transfer dealings are brushed under the 'undisclosed' carpet when so many supporters are merely keen to have a vague idea about where their own money is going once pumped into the club they love.

Athletics supporters have long had to put up with their heroes mysteriously pulling out of races over appearance fees, and tennis and golf fans who find the field dramatically poorer than they were promised it would be when parting with their cash.

Many sports have to realise that there is little point to anything if no one is watching, that fans are crucial to the health and prosperity of their game in whatever format it is being played. Without supporters, professional sport is nothing.

Cricket is often found to be the very last to grasp notions such as fan interaction, effective and helpful communication with the public, and deecent treatment of paying customers in what is an entertainment business.

Fans deserve much, much better, regardless of whether Pietersen does too.

By Dan Quarrell