In Good Conscience

Money talks in sports but is never the biggest story

From Old Trafford to Rio de Janeiro, the games defy the notion that sports are all about play and little about money.

Today's United versus City is the 172nd encounter between the two Manchester clubs since 1881. It throbs with history. It resonates around the globe. And as you will have heard, this latest derby is intensified because the managers Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola bring to their new roles a bitter rivalry that started in Barcelona.

It shouldn't be about the coaches. It also shouldn't be about money, though that is unavoidable given that between them the two giants spent a further £300 million (S$540.21 million) on new players this summer - compounded by monster salaries that the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Silva command.

If this isn't the first billion pound derby, it will not be far off.

Yet far, far away in Rio, the Paralympic Games that almost didn't happen are under way.

These Games represent the peak of a lifetime for many athletes. As the Paralympics (Motto "Spirit in Motion") got underway, it would have been difficult not to see the sheer joy that lifted the opening ceremony.

As competitors entered the stadium in Rio, they didn't need a billion dollar concert; they just needed to be there.

These are the so-called disability games. The title has always sounded inappropriate given that the founding father Ludwig Guttmann invented sports for spinal injury patients at Stoke Mandeville, the hospital in Buckinghamshire, west of London where he worked since the start of World War II.

Driven out of Germany by Herr Hitler, the Jewish neurologist Guttmann dared his patients to get out of bed and compete in wheelchairs. Anyone seeing the Stoke Mandeville Games marvelled at the "spirit in motion" that the doctor ordered.

As competitors entered the stadium in Rio, they didn't need a billion dollar concert; they just needed to be there.

The audience shared this, in part because of initiatives to make sure the stadium was full. Four weeks ago, this wasn't going to happen.

Rio's budget was cleaned out by the Olympics. Philip Craven who played wheelchair basketball after breaking his back in a rock climbing fall at 16, proved the leader for these Paralympics in so many ways.

He is a Lancastrian, born close to Manchester and was knighted after rising to the presidency of the International Paralympic Committee in 2001. Sir Philip also became a member of the Foundation Board of the World Anti-Doping Agency and tackled two things that bedevil the Olympic movement.

His organisation banned Russia without exception from the Paralympics because of the evidence of doping. And it refused to let the Paralympics perish because Rio spent everything it had on the Olympics, leaving nothing for the Paralympics.

"We were not going to let the Paralympics die here," Craven said.

He barely slept more than three hours on any night over the past month. At one point, he didn't eat for 19 hours, and passed out on a plane. He insisted that all eligible National Olympic Committees would be represented in Rio, and they are.

Brotherhood between nations led to such helping hands as Australia ensuring that Fiji and another of the Pacific islands got on the plane.

Brazil, short of cash even for the basics, was encouraged to make sure that those eerily half-empty stadiums during the Olympics were not repeated at the Paralympics. By lowering prices, and by giving tickets away, the Paralympics began with a tangible spirit between the athletes and the audience.

Prince Harry apparently donated an undisclosed sum to the #FilltheSeats initiative aimed at donating 10,000 tickets to local children. Consequently, the crowd, the competitors, and the volunteers were as one at the start of these endangered Games.

Some spectators booed the politicians in the privileged tribune. That is the right of the people, just as it was the right of Mancunians to let United's board know that they wanted a change from Louis van Gaal after last season.

Once the sports got under way, there was another made-in- Manchester connection between the soccer of multi-millionaires and the sports of people defying disbelief.

One thinks of Sarah Storey. Born in Greater Manchester almost 39 years ago, Storey has never been able to use her left hand after the arm became entangled in the umbilical cord at birth.

On Friday, Sarah became the all-time record holder of gold medals won at the Paralympic Games. Having started as a swimmer at the Barcelona Games in 1992, and switched to bike racing because of a persistent ear infection in 2005, she lost no momentum.

Friday's win at the velodrome was her 12th gold medal (and her 23rd Paralympic medal in all), and the first she has been able to share with her three-year-old daughter Louisa.

Motherhood, she reckons makes her stronger and faster. She holds the one-hour cycling world record, and has more events in Rio to come.

Already a Dame, one wonders what more Britain can do to acknowledge Sarah Storey?

Back home in Manchester, in the Theatre of Dreams, there will be players who are just passing through. Ibrahimovic, 34, has experienced derbies in Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France. He will never have experienced one with the history of Manchester, where United have won 71 times, City 49, and 51 games have ended in draws.

Sergio Aguero is banned from this one because the Argentinian swung an elbow into the face of West Ham's Winston Reid.

But with all the money spent, it could be that today's derby will need a teenager to rise from the bench to settle the outcome. United's Marcus Rashford in red, or Kelechi Iheanacho in blue?

By that time Sarah Storey, from Eccles in Greater Manchester, will be back on the bike, chasing more glory. Spirit in Motion.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2016, with the headline 'Money talks in sports but is never the biggest story'. Print Edition | Subscribe