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Prawn sandwich brigade grazes on

Not so long ago I queued in persistent Aberdeen drizzle to hand over my expensive match ticket for a one-day cricket international.

My mood darkened with the weather as the booted and suited were ushered through a dedicated entrance apart from we hoi polloi who had paid for our tickets. They, of course, were the corporate elect, memorably christened the "prawn sandwich brigade" by former Manchester United captain Roy Keane.

Nothing, apart from television-dictated kick-offs, annoys ordinary fans more than corporate hospitality. The reasons are not hard to find. In the gents I met a stray from the corporate compound. "What do you think of it so far?" he asked.

I suggested that Jimmy Anderson was still quick despite the damp underfoot conditions. The adjacent cognoscenti paused a moment before asking: "Is he a batter or bowler then?" My involuntary wince led him to add, perhaps unnecessarily, that he knew nothing about cricket. The "best thing" was "being paid to be there." Clearly a loss to the diplomatic corps.

It's not only football and cricket that are menaced by the corporate contagion. It is as aggressive and invasive as the Japanese kudzu beetle, and is spreading rapidly through most sports, threatening the long-term welfare of its hosts. Anyone who has tried unsuccessfully to obtain tickets for Wimbledon may well wonder why assorted politicians, business people and "movers and shakers" do not experience similar difficulties. Corporate credit cards talk in areas other than sport. They pay for the wining, dining and general entertainment of actual and potential clients. But where is the dividing line between corporate hospitality and corporate corruption? Wining and dining potential clients is a sweetener and an incentive to "remember us" when awarding the next contract.

Critics of corporate hospitality are sometimes accused of envy or failing to understand the need to grease the wheels of business. Maybes aye, maybe no. Nevertheless, corporate hospitality is not cost neutral.

At the end of the day someone picks up the tab. Usually it is the consumer, those of us who buy the petrol or invest in sponsors' financial products.

In truth, corporate hospitality is further confirmation of whose opinion really matters in modern Britain. In much the same way as only little people pay taxes, it seems only little people buy their own tickets.

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Business

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