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Can we believe what we see?

This isn’t exactly rocket science, but occasionally every man (or woman) jack of us gets reminded that – for the human race generally – either things are never quite what they seem to be and/or (alternatively) sometimes they can be exactly what each of us want them to be, simply because perceptions are subjective and no two people ever see things 100% alike.

For example, it is possible for two people to go to a party and afterwards one of them can emerge having decided that it wasn’t much to write home about and/or they didn’t enjoy it … whilst the other goes home having had a whale of a time.

Just as two people can go to the same football match and come away with quite different impressions.

My next thought could be affected by my experience of the Covid pandemic but then again it might not be.

When it comes to sport, to what extent can we believe what we see?

Take the Olympics.

We’re currently exposed to an Olympiad at which we’re asked to believe that everything is what it seems and that what we are witnessing are the very best athletes and teams in the world competing against each other in genuine competition in order to determine which – on the finals day – is the very best at their particular event or game.

Then again, over the past 24 hours, we have seen reports of two female competitors suffering mishaps that have caused them to miss out on gold medals.

Leading US gymnast Simon Biles, who had been openly flagging that her head was not in a good place, suddenly withdrew from the female US foursome competing in the “Team” multi-apparatus event, a decision which effectively then consigned her colleagues to a silver medal at best, which is what they (and she) later duly annexed.

In recent months Biles had been affected by a scandal in the United States over male coaches that had exhibited “inappropriate behaviour” towards young female gymnasts.

On the positive side, she had also developed a new and indeed unique “move” (the Yurchenko double pike) so spectacular that she is the only person in the world ever to have successfully performed it in competition.

Since arriving in Tokyo, however, she has spoken several times of the pressures she has felt burdening her training and event preparation and – in recent practice – she twice completed imperfect versions of her chosen routines, blemishes in her case previously unknown because of her supreme talent and classic champion’s drive for perfection.

Separately, in the Women’s Triathlon, 27 year old British contender Georgia Taylor-Brown (a recent world champion) had the misfortune to suffer a puncture during the cycling leg of the contest but still managed to overcome what had become a 22-second deficit behind a four-woman pack going into the final – running – leg and eventually take the silver medal.

Neither Taylor-Brown – nor any other triathlete in the field – will ever know “what might have been” had she not suffered that puncture.

Let’s take two more examples.

The first I am less than happy about.

It is well known in athletic and Olympic circles that for decades Russia has shamelessly and systematically encouraged – indeed most probably been actively involved in – doping its athletes.

The evidence eventually became so obvious and damning that the IOC had little option other than to ban Russia from sending a team to the Tokyo Olympics.

And yet – embarrassingly – and partly because tens of elite Russian athletes were claiming discrimination in being excluded from the Olympics because they’d never been found guilty of doping, the IOC has since allowed Russian athletes to compete in Tokyo under the banner of “the Russian Olympic Committee” rather than Russia the country.

At the moment “the Russian Olympic Committee” stands at fourth in the countries’ Olympic medal table, with 18 medals (7 of them gold), just ahead of Britain in fifth spot on 13 medals.

What a farce is that?

Secondly – and lastly – as long as the sport of boxing has existed it has gone hand in hand with iniquities such as corruption, bribery, doping, “taking a dive” and skulduggeries of every conceivable nature.

And yet – via the various world governing bodies who control world titles, and indeed stout organisations around the globe such as the British Board of Boxing Control – the sport has managed to present itself to the world as an activity that is well-administered and respectable.

If elite sport aspires to anything, it must be that its games, events and tournaments are genuine contests – run with integrity and without cheating of any kind – designed wholly and exclusively to prove or decide which competitor, participant, athlete and/or team is the best on the day.

I came to this topic today because of a report I spotted overnight about a horse racing scandal that occurred yesterday in Galway, Ireland.

A horse called Alizarine apparently won a 2-year-old fillies race at odds of 4-1 on debut for trainer Jessica Harrington, only later to be discovered to be a quite different horse – a 3-year-old filly called Aurora Princess. The excuse was given that a mistake had been made.

See here for a piece on the episode by Greg Wood that appears today on the website of – THE GUARDIAN

I just now repeat what I said earlier: when it comes to sport, can we actually believe everything/anything we see?





About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts