From where I sit in my master control suite surveying the goings on in the world of sport I sometimes reflect upon the debilitating and gradual disengaging effect of creeping age upon a sports fan’s mind. I might have once have called it ‘creeping maturity’ but I’m sufficiently ancient these days to regard myself as having gone past that stage into something more feeble and ultimately cynical.
When I was a kid – say between the ages of 4 and 40 – sport was a majestic centre point to the way the world worked exuding (as it did) certainty, anticipation, passion, excitement, the pain of defeat and the joys of victory.
And that was only for the fan, listening on some rickety old radio, watching black and white TV, reading bibles such as Wisden and the Playfair Cricket Annual, or Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly, or Rugby World, or Athletics Weekly, and waiting on tenterhooks for the Saturday night results as each new season of the year (and its different sports) came around.
Cup Finals; Olympic, European and Commonwealth Games; Test matches; rugger internationals; Grand Prix motoring racing; the Grand National; the Boat Race; Football and Rugby World Cups; what else mattered in Life?
Yes, there were issues – e.g. the Eastern Block and its oh-so-obvious relationship with performance-enhancing drugs, occasional cheating or betting scandals; violence on and off the fields of play; the eternally uneasy relations between leading sports clubs, athletes and managers in so many sports and their respective administrative (supposedly controlling) bodies.
But somehow – in the mind’s eye – none of these seemed to affect the sports themselves.
Maybe that was naïve on my (or our) part – I say ‘our’ because I wasn’t alone, all of my pals and acquaintances were in the same boat. For us, the sport itself remained pure, honourable and dripping with integrity.
Yes, there were always the odd rotten apple in the barrel (they exist in every walk of life) but – the point was – the ‘whole’ was unassailable and (if you like) represented the way things were and ought to be.
We lived our lives by it, for God’s sake.
But that’s all gone now. Sport is just a branch of the entertainment industry and – in a capitalist world like this one – commerce, money and profit matter more than anything else. More than sport itself.
British football clubs represent their communities less and less – the days of local lads coming through and being supported by their friends and family all the way on their journey (with its inevitable ups and downs) through their professional careers and then back to oblivion are nearly over. They still happen, but rarely.
Now it is all about instant success bought if necessary with ‘silly money’ from some sheik or Malaysian business consortium with megabucks – and recouped by even bigger amounts of ‘silly money’ from the television companies.
And now – if we are to believe the media chatter – those television companies are about to be joined (or challenged if not overpowered) by even bigger amounts of ‘silly money’ that might be offered by giants from the digital internet world such as Amazon and Google.
When it comes to corruption and the evil ‘virus that never goes away’ in the world of sport (i.e. drugs) sometimes I just find myself shaking my head.
These past few days we’ve had the strange spectacle of the former WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO world heavyweight Tyson Fury – who has had his well-documented issues with both performance-enhancing and recreational drugs – suddenly being ‘released’ from his enforced inactivity by the expedient of the relevant drugs authority giving him an already-served back-dated lengthy ‘suspension’.
He’s about to apply for a licence from the British Board of Boxing Control. Presumably it won’t be long before – within the next 18 months – we find him allegedly fit enough to box for the heavyweight title once again and therefore make everybody concerned tens of millions of pounds. He’s a controversial character who has also had his self-admitted mental issues – but anyone expecting these to prevent the authorities allowing him to box again (or at least consider whether he ought to be allowed to) needn’t hold their breath.
He’s going to, folks.
I also feel very uneasy about the issues surrounding the recent Chris Froome failure of a drugs test.
This is leaving aside the fact I’ve never been a particular fan of cycling – largely because (to my eyes) it has always been tainted by the stench of accompanying rumours, suspicions and then occasionally huge scandals regarding the taking of performance-enhancing drugs.
For me, rightly or wrongly, the glittering career of Sir Bradley Wiggins on both road and track has been forever devalued by his TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) irregularities – and Dr Richard Freeman’s infamous suspect package – which have left a flashing neon sign of doubt metaphorically hanging over his achievements.
This latest uproar involving the supposedly every-so-squeaky-clean Froome (who made a conspicuous point of distancing himself from Wiggins over the latter’s TUE problems when these blew up) needs some convincing answers, and quick. What seems like the constant fudging by everyone involved (especially the most senior people) at Team Sky on this subject generally does nothing to give me any confidence that the integrity of the organisation – let alone the sport – will emerge vindicated and free of suspicion.
Or that ultimately justice will be done, the truth revealed and/or indeed any wrong-doing admitted, found or ever punished.
Time to batten down the hatches and don my fudge-expelling cape, I feel.