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Sporting Idols

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I was chatting to a friend yesterday about sporting heroes (and what a day of sport it was yesterday with the Tour de France and the Open coming to a climax). Maybe it was nostalgia creeping in, but I said that sporting heroes didn’t seem quite as ‘larger than life’ now as they were when we were children (although Bradley Wiggins might have the potential to be a welcome exception to that).

I was saying that we don’t seem to breed heroes with feet of clay anymore. Gone are the days when our sportsmen were almost as famous for what they did off the field of play or how they conducted themselves on the pitch as for what they did on it. I felt sometimes as if (for example when watching John McEnroe play) that the contest was as much between McEnroe and himself (and often the rest of the world) as it was between him and his opponent and that if he was victorious that somehow made the victory all the greater.

Now the focus and professionalism which all our sportsmen bring to bear means that there is probably little room for the kind of extra-curricular activities we were used to. The worst my friend and I could quickly come up with was a drunken escapade with a pedalo (and can you really imagine the likes of George Best getting involved with a pedalo?). There is of course, hugely more money at stake now and that inevitably has an impact on the seriousness everyone connected with sport will bring to bear, but is it a bad thing that our heroes had feet of clay? I appreciate that sports personalities are important role models for children but I grew up in the era of George Best, Ian Botham and others and I think even as children we were able to work out the difference between celebrity and normality (and which side of the line we were expected to be on).

Maybe we just want our sporting heroes to be a little bit more like us; human and fallible, so that somehow we can feel that they are not so different after all. The Olympics will produce new sporting heroes, no doubt, but I expect that they will be more of the ‘clean-cut’ variety than the ‘larger than life’. You decide whether that is a good thing.

Posted: 23/07/2012 11:17:41
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