Almanac Opinion: Growing sick of sport!

Tom Lehrer famously remarked that satire died on the day when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And you can understand the frustration of those attempting to create a better world when they witness the latest pictures of atrocities being committed in Aleppo, or on the West Bank, or by ISIS fanatics dedicated to sparking fear and leaving carnage in their wake.


It’s hardly surprising that so many people seek refuge in sport, given the litany of doom and destruction elsewhere across the globe. And yet, as somebody who has written about cricket, rugby, football, athletics and other pursuits for the last 30 years, I can never remember a time when I was so utterly cynical and suspicious about the whole playground scene.


This evening, in the UK, the big story revolved around the FA’s dismissal of England manager, Sam Allardyce, who thought it was a smart move to spill his guts to undercover journalists about his desire to earn an extra £400,000 – on top of his £3m salary – by driving an open-top bus through his employers’ rules and regulations.


It’s only two months – and one international match – since Allardyce, who was less a utility than futility player earlier in his life, inherited the job from hapless Roy Hodgson, whose charges were beaten by Iceland at the European Championships. Before him, one can scan the scandals with a weary sense of familiarity, including the sorry saga of Glenn Hoddle, who exited the England role after telling a Times journalist that people with disabilities were suffering for crimes perpetrated in a previous existence.


And do you know, there comes a breaking point when sheer bloody disillusionment kicks in! To some extent, it’s easy to laugh at the foibles of Allardyce, who enjoys his wine in a pint glass, and whose managerial philosophy isn’t a million miles removed from Mike Bassett, as portrayed by veteran actor, Ricky Tomlinson, in the hit film comedy.


But football these days is so riddled with corruption, giant-sized egos, pouting prima donnas and overhyped heroes with feet of clay it’s precious difficult to care about any of them.


Quite apart from the scandal of FIFA living in a moral vacuum, one where the 2022 World Cup could be blithely awarded to Qatar, there’s the fact the world’s best player, Lionel Messi, was recently convicted of tax offences, while his nearest rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, refused to shake the hands of the Iceland players after the latter drew 1-1 with Portugal at the European tournament in June.


It was a heroic performance from the underdogs, and how did Ronaldo respond? “They just try and defend, defend, defend. Then they celebrate like they have won the Euros. This, in my opinion, shows a small mentality.”


Pots and kettles, son. Pots and kettles.


Sadly, though, the disenchantment doesn’t simply extend to football. In cricket, for instance, the rapid spread of Twenty20 has sparked a situation where many youngsters tell me they grow bored with the duration of an ODI contest. Heaven forbid they might have to sit through five days of attritional Test action – or inaction – but, outwith the Ashes realm, fewer and fewer fans are inclined to cast their gaze beyond the wham-bam McMuffin realm of T20.


The ICC, another global organisation with sawdust for brains, has tinkered with formats and blathered about introducing a two-tier Test structure which has about as much semblance to reality as the Loch Ness Monster. They have also chosen to reduce the number of participants at the 2019 World Cup, because, in their estimation, there were too many one-sided tussles last time. And so it continues: the rich and powerful get richer and mightier ad infinitum – or at least until the public demand something more exciting than T20. Whereupon, well what?


Even this summer’s Olympics have been undermined by a flurry of negative stories since the party finished in Rio. Briefly, my spirits were invigorated by the myriad thrills in the pool, on the track and in the velodrome. But could we always believe what we were witnessing?


The IOC – don’t even get me started! – has presided over decades of caving in to the hormone monsters and corporate vested interests, and couldn’t even reach an unequivocal decision on Russia’s participation at the Games when all the evidence proclaimed they shouldn’t have been within a thousand miles of Brazil.


Yet how clean was everybody else? In recent days, there have been a flurry of revelations and accusations aimed at such luminaries as Sir Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky, allied to the whole grey area of athletes with assorted ailments being allowed to take drugs – always, of course, under strict medical supervision.


The technical term is Therapeutic Use Exemption, and it is apparently widespread in athletics and cycling. Well, I happen to know about one former Olympic champion who took steroids for asthma – because he told me – and “coincidentally” became a much better, faster runner at the same time. Perhaps I’m over-egging this point, but when doctors start producing medical certificates to justify drug ingestion, the only people rubbing their hands in glee will be the battalion of sports lawyers who are already interpreting TUE in a bewildering variety of ways.


On a personal level, I still relish stirring acts of collective derring-do and individual brilliance and bow to nobody in my admiration for the All Blacks or Usain Bolt, Novak Dkokovic or Michael Phelps, Jason Day or Chris Gayle in full flight. Then there are the heartwarming tales, exemplified by the success of Iceland at the Euros and the Fijian pride in collecting their maiden Olympic gold.


Ultimately, though, what started out as a few mild snuffles and a grumbling cold is in danger of turning into a full-blooded infection.


Yes, I think I’m sick of sport!


  1. Sadly Neil, I fear it may be contagious, and I think I may have some of the early symptoms.

  2. Neil – thoughtful piece. I don’t think you are sick of sport, I think you sick of what many sports administrators are turning it into.

    A few years back I wrote on this site about one of the greatest sporting achievements I’ve ever seen. It took place at the Asia Pacific Games for Special Olympics, held in Newcastle, NSW. It involved a young girl with Down Syndrome from India, who swam in the 1500m freestyle. She lost by about 4 laps, but the courage she displayed in finishing the race was extraordinary. It was sport at its rawest and bravest. The whole audience was in tears. Tears of joy.

    On a similar note I have been heard to grumble about the many short comings of religion and the modern church. My mother, a woman of strong faith, says to me that I may well be right to be critical of the messenger, but I should still listen to the message. Maybe this applies to your current frame of mind?

  3. bill lothian says

    Good piece, Neil. Congratulations. Can I suggest cutting out the high end sport. I’ve found sport can be totally compelling at grass roots level provided it is competitive. Don’t need to watch household names or spend big money on admission to be captivated.
    Each to their own but never understood paying to see something that Is live on telly (with occasional exceptions to remind myself atmosphere isn’t worth that much),
    It’s not sport that is the problem but some of the chancers who have high jacked it.
    Stick with it . Millions of good guys out there in sport.

  4. Neil Drysdale says

    Thanks for the comments and others I’ve received from elsewhere which suggest I’m not alone in my views. I think, in the future, I might enjoy grassroots sport – as Bill suggests – and take an arm’s length approach to elite pursuits. What irks me is the sheer greed of so many of the stellar names in sport. They can afford anything they like – and they still want more!

  5. Neil Drysdale says

    Sam Allardyce today admitted he had messed up – but blamed the press “entrapment” for getting caught. Sven-Goran Eriksson did the same, even as his trousers were around his ankles! Glenn Hoddle told the BBC: “I never said them things” after he was taped talking rubbish about karma and disabled people.
    I’m not saying the press always get it right. Good grief, of course we don’t. But most of us care about our jobs and try to do the best we can.

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