as the olympics comes to an end and the footie season begins in earnest my love hate relationship to sport continues.
there was a time when i was a contender to be a contender, all that stopped me was a mix of not quite enough talent, nowhere near enough dedication and little or no drive (oh and i was let down by my body deciding that while my peers were going to have a growth spurt upwards gaining 6 to 12 inches the only additional inches i was going to get were going on my waist) . if that sounds like a recipe for failure – it was. thing is you can get away with not having the dedication if you have the talent and you can compensate for no talent by just applying yourself and training hard. if you skip all three bits well you can look back on your glory days while you sit at your desk at work while you bore the tits off your colleagues about just how talented a footballer/rugby/tennis/modern pentathlete you were. (though on balance that is preferable to hearing about how blasted your workmate got over the weekend because they sank twenty pints, did two lines, got off with someone but can't remember much else about the weekend).
while my sporting heyday was fleeting it did give me an insight into the world of dedication, determination, sweat, tears, puke, time and sacrifice that is necessary to become good – moving to elite is another level altogether.
it follows then that i should be a keen fan, on the edge of my seat cheering on my guy/gal/team. living and dying by their success or failure, alas i am not. i used to be. many moons ago i was an avid fan of basketball. staying up late to watch highlights on channel 4 and itv, sitting through the night to watch full games. falling in love with the poetry of michael jordan in action. when i discovered a new british team was setting up in my area i became an instant fan. never missed a home game, jumped for joy when we won the cup and championship, had a sniffle when we were knocked out of the cup by manchester what i knew about basketball could be written on the head of a pin, my ability to play basketball was non-existent but i loved the ebb and flow, the speed, the power, the artistry that went into the game, some players were brutes hurtling down the court like an express train and slamming the ball into the net, others danced and pirouetted their way to scoring. it was magical, it was breathless entertainment, it was edge of your seat heart in your mouth count the seconds thrills and spills. i loved it
and then the team hit financial troubles. moved too far away. the nba was only available on satellite channels and the love died.
that was probably the start of the cynicism. curiously this was also the time when i fell for the wwe where cynicism is the name of the game – but it was all part of the shtick of sports entertainment so all fine and dandy.
what really tipped me over the edge was a combination of money and sportsmen as divas. eye watering financial rewards are only available in the 'elite' sports, those watched on more tv screens than the rest. more tv coverage means more advertising revenue, more advertising revenue means more tv coverage and that means more money. more money means greater rewards for the elite of the sport, and of course their agents.
as if the money wasn't enough we have had to suffer the celebritization of sport during which sports personalities have gone from being role models (not something that kicking a ball or riding fast necessarily makes you competent to do) to being people who have their everyday life played out in front us – sometimes as aspiration sometimes as tragedy.
in short the media have created monsters and we the public seem willing to go along with it,
the sport almost becomes second fiddle to hang other narratives on – such as sacrifice & legacy, good and bad.
of course fans themselves don't help. they pay money for the pleasure of watching their heroes and once you start paying a lot you start expecting a lot. more often than not those expectations run wild and create an in built failure. a pal of mine is a season ticket holder at a football club, a club that is there or thereabouts every season challenging for honours. as there are only 4 titles the club can win in any given season then the odds are not in their favour, but logic is not something the fans like. yet what my pal wants to see from them is that they care, that they do their jobs well. for him the complaint isn't that they lose it is that they don't try. now i may not be a great footballer but for a weekly salary that is far and away greater than the average annual salary i can guarantee i will run my tits off every time i get on the pitch. not so footballers – because they don't see their reward as being exceptional to them it is the norm.
when silly money comes into play it also seems to create a sense of entitlement on the part of the sports star – well i am being paid this much therefore i am important – in fact more important than the club and fans. how often do you hear someone say 'they need to match my level of ambition', though this mostly means pay me more money or i will find someone else to pay me. yet for all that ambition and desire you never hear them say – cut my wages and use the spare cash to improve.
meanwhile the publicly funded olympic athletes either want more to help them live their dreams. or they want more benefits such as free tickets to watch events or to invite their families. or they want us to appreciate their sacrifices. of course the rewards are theirs, it is the public that takes the risk.
there are students out there who have taken on huge debt to live their dreams – and in many cases these dreams are going to be of a bigger benefit to the general public than any number of medals won at sports events. yet we expect lawyers, doctors, social workers, teachers etc to fund their dreams themselves.
when it comes to sacrifices you only have to look around at the people working long hours for little reward and even less glory to understand that sacrifice comes in many shapes and shades – and for some it is a lifetime of sacrifice.
so yes dear reader i have fallen out of love with sport because of money and entitlement. yet i can't help myself i keep going back to it in the hope that i will be wowed and inspired again.
live in hope.