Wednesday, September 14, 2005

My sporting heroes

I don't like sport, as I have said before. That's not quite true- I do enjoy some sport as a participant (those which do not feature mud, rain or physical injury). But spectatorship has always baffled me. I'm not sure quite what the frighteningly large proportion of the world's population that says it supports Manchester United mean when they say it- apart from in the captitalist sense of supporting the owners of the club through their purchase of overpriced merchandise. Even if their good wishes were somehow assisting the team, it seems doubtful that the most expensive players in the world would need much assistance, any more than gravity, death or taxes need supporters clubs. 'Good team beats bad team' is hardly news, any more than 'bad team beats worse team'. Those who are triumphally lording the English cricket team as the best in the world are missing the point. The thrill of their victory derives from the knowledge that it was barely deserved. Even back in the 1970s, before things got apparently irreversibly bad, England was known for its knack of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, usually by a batting collapse. Essenetially, therefore, the national rejoicing is the result of the success of the underdog. This is always cited as a specifically British trait, certainly a non-American trait, wrongly, I think. The maverick-who-needs-to-defeat-his-personal-demons-before-he-can-defeat-his-rival is a stock of Hollywood sports and other films (Top Gun) and one which goes some ditance to the saying "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser". The maverick storyline always seems a con-trick to me, since it implies that the troubled genius is better than their carefully trained untroubled opponent. No wonder kids today... Having said that, it is of course perfectly true that the clinical perfection of Bjorn Borg or Pete Sampras, for all its record-breaking reliability, can inspire no feeling warmer than a mild admiration, while watching England try to win a Test match is like watching your child take their first steps- a mixture of pride, doubt and fear.

In some ways, the new popularity of cricket will be cursed by those who have been watching since the 1970s. They have not suffered as we have suffered. They have not been in the wilderness. They have not seen hope after hope sink under the weight of better, fitter, faster opposition. On the other hand, even the constant mention of 'sportsmanship' cannot conceal the genuinely friendly nature of the competition- what would have been called 'sporting' if that word did not, these days, mean drug-fuelled, cash-obsessed and violent. Now they are superstars, I wonder how long it will last.

No comments: