Sexism, deceit, dishonour, disreputable behaviour, racism, tax evasion and bankruptcy: this may read like the plotlines for next month’s EastEnders but it isn’t, it’s a small selection from the last twelve months of sport news.
Sport stars in modern society are, for reasons which are no longer entirely clear, revered as heroes, as role-models to our children and as aspirational figures to us all. I thought that perhaps I was missing something but I’ve taken a hard look recently and I really don’t get it at all anymore. Quite apart from the illegal scams which have been revealed to be going on with betting syndicates, the professional fouls in football and the pathetic prima donna performances of players who fake injury to gain a quick advantage, just consider for a moment these recent examples of utter caddishness which I can quote without even giving it any thought:
Dereck Chisora and David Haye breaking into a fight after a fight
Luis Suarez’s utterly childish refusal to shake hands with Patrice Evra
Andy Gray’s ridiculous and anachronistic sexist remarks
John Terry’s alleged racist remark to Anton Ferdinand
Wayne Rooney frequently being outed as consorting with prostitutes
The England rugby squad’s well-documented drunken shenanigans
That’s without even bothering to do any research. Honestly, this is the kind of squalid behaviour which one ought only to have to expect from our politicians (and thank-you to Eric Joyce for illustrating my point, in case people can’t remember Jeffrey Archer). The term sportsman has been brought into disrepute in recent years and the only reason I can think of for it is the money. These people (and they are only ordinary people, no better than you or I) have been given a ridiculously over-estimated sense of their own self-worth because they are rewarded beyond all reason for what is, despite the protestations of fans, only a bloody game (with the exception of boxing, of course, which is no more than legitimised thuggery – although it is, at least, a literally bloody game) and somehow this seems to have led some of them to think that they can operate outside of the basic rules of decency that the rest of us adhere to.
Now, what people get up to in their private lives is nobody’s business but their own (no matter what the red-top press would have you think) but these public figures are supposed to be examples – we ought to be able to take national pride in their achievements and behaviour while they are on the field. Our past icons have been men and women who we could rightly put on pedestals: Daley Thompson, Chris Hoy, Kelly Holmes, Steve Redgrave, Sebastian Coe, Paula Radcliff, David Beckham, Fatima Whitbread, Roger Bannister, Bobby Charlton and many, many more have been inspirational examples of what can be achieved through hard work, determination and true sportsmanship. In this Olympic year, we ought to be able to expect the very best from our representatives in the arena. Surely the time has come when we should stop rewarding those who no longer even begin to approach the guiding principles of what we mean by sporting behaviour – of course we should acknowledge these people for their achievements but their passion should be their competition, not merely money and the arrogance it can afford.