POSTED: March 28th 2018

NEIL WILSON: Games That Become Too Important

Former captain Steve Smith of the Australian Cricket Team was caught ball tampering © Getty Images
Former captain Steve Smith of the Australian Cricket Team was caught ball tampering © Getty Images

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Those reading this in the United States of America can be excused for missing the great scandal of sport that has convulsed the part of the world that used to be pink in any atlas.

Cricket is a game played almost exclusively until very recently by countries that were once part of the British Empire, a forerunner some say of baseball involving two teams of eleven with rules inexplicable to anybody not brought up to it.

What has caused this outcry has been a conspiracy by the captain and vice-captain of the greatest of cricketing nations, Australia, to alter the leather covering of the ball with glass-paper in a match against South Africa in order to affect its flight.

Without going into the technicalities - it has the same effect as scuffing a baseball -  it boils down to a conspiracy to cheat led by a man considered the greatest cricketer of his age. Cricket's equivalent of Lance Armstrong and US Postal, or Tonya Harding in Olympic figure skating.

The Australian prime minister called it "beyond belief". Britain's prime minister, not a lady known for her sporting interests, expressed herself "shocked". 

It concerns them, of course, because sport has long since ceased to be merely something we do as recreation in our leisure time, a bit of fun to no greater purpose than enjoyment. 

For countries and prime minister it has become a matter of national importance and prestige. Why else would Russia's government conspire to affect the results of Olympic Games by doping, or Great Britain pour millions of its National Lottery into an effort to win more Olympic medals? Or US presidents invite Olympians to the White House.

They know that the glory of triumph in Olympic Games and its ilk reflect well on a nation and hence on them. It is like winning a war without the killing. 

It's a nonsense, of course. Sport is a distraction from the normality of life. As the great cricket writer and former England captain Mike Atherton said in The Times this week of the latest scandal..."Modern teams and players....are so insular, so cosseted, so isolated from outside concerns and so focused on something so narrow and, ultimately, unimportant, that a loss of perspective is inevitable."

Perhaps elite sport has always been so. In a previous cricketing scandal in the 1930s, a trade war between England and Australia was feared and Prime Ministers became involved. In that same decade Hitler used the Olympic Games to spread  the image of the Third Reich. The Soviets used the 1980 Games for similar propaganda. 

It cannot help put sport into its proper perspective when billions of dollars are spent on a single Olympic Games. To paraphrase the creed of Pierre de Coubertin, the creator of the modern Olympic Games, sport should not only be about winning, whether for athletes or politicians.

Get it back in perspective. They are, by their very name, games. 

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.


Keywords · Olympics · Neil Wilson

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