What is loyalty in sport?

Loyalty is a concept in sport that is more important to fans than players. Supporters often expect players to remain loyal to their club regardless of the circumstances. They boo them when it turns out they switched clubs for a better salary. Football fans are notorious for it, booing home team favorites as if they were expected to remain loyal to one club for life. After all, no one expects another professional to stay forever with the company they joined after graduating from college.

Some fans believe that players only step onto the field to entertain them, encourage a sense of belonging, and give them a measure of fame. And when their favorite player moves to another team, they feel divided and betrayed.

No other career change has to endure fans of his former workplace queuing outside his room or cubicle and yelling at him. I started my career at a newspaper in Bengaluru and after about three years I switched to another one in Chennai. It wasn’t seen as a betrayal, just a young man getting better opportunities.

Athletes whose careers are short and could be shortened due to injury, indiscipline or politics have the right to excel wherever their talents take them. They too have to take care of their families, have to save for the future and play where they feel most comfortable. Footballer Chuni Goswami only played for one club, Mohun Bagan, throughout his career and received praise for it. Yes, it’s a special relationship, but his contemporaries who moved to other clubs weren’t traitors.

With the exception of the period the Chennai Super Kings were suspended, their captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was there and won five titles. That’s an amazing record. Virat Kohli’s stint with Royal Challengers Bangalore wasn’t as productive, but it was longer. His biggest regret at the end of another IPL season is not finishing with a title-winning team. But if these two modern giants switched teams now, there would be an outcry from the fans. That’s in the nature of the sport. Every time I see a journalist ask an athlete why he changed clubs, I expect an answer like, “Have you never changed jobs?” Why did you do that?” But athletes are trained to being boring and politically correct at press conferences, and that’s exactly what they do.

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Players often discover that loyalty is a two-way street. Clubs are not as loyal to them as one would expect clubs to be.

Of course, loyalty has nothing to do with winning or losing. It’s about emotions. Player loyalty breeds fan loyalty (fans often switch allegiance when players change) and this translates into greater marketing opportunities for clubs engaging with fans beyond matchdays.

Loyalty is rewarded in a variety of ways that benefit clubs, from marketing their products to organizing special ‘Fan Days’ where fans can meet their heroes. Loyalty increases sales. It is important for clubs to arouse the enthusiasm of the fans.

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