The snobbery and yobbery of our sporting culture
10 October 2008
The week’s sporting news has had more than its normal share of thugs and saints. In one story, a young sportsman, famous for his activities on and off the pitch, was involved in an ugly fist-fight with a fellow team-member. At the other end of the behavioural scale, a group of highly paid players are contributing to an educational project designed to encourage secondary school pupils to learn a second language.
These little morality plays have involved the usual suspects from football and rugby, two sports whose codes of ethics and discipline are frequently compared to one another, with rugby being held up as an example in matters of discipline and decent, manly behaviour. Yet it was at the training ground of Wasps Rugby Football Club that the young England star Danny Cipriani was knocked to the ground by another international Josh Lewsey. The team which has agreed to send its star players into schools across southern England is Arsenal.
The reaction to these differing events has been revealing. Cipriani had been in the headlines before: he is the partygoer and dater of babes who marked his first selection for the England team by visiting a nightclub in the early hours of the morning.
But his fight with Lewsey has been reported in tones of amused indulgence in the press. Wasps put out a statement to say that the ruckus was the sort of thing which happened at rugby clubs all the time. Their director of rugby, Ian McGeehan, went further. “I’m actually quite pleased,” he said.
Imagine for a moment that the same pattern of events – the girls, the parties, the posing for cameras, the nightclub on the day of an international, the fisticuffs on the training ground – had not involved a young rugby player but a footballer. Far from being a jokey minor story, it would be portrayed in hysterical headlines as a shameful downwards spiral; behaviour by a pampered, overpaid youth which brought shame on club and country. There would be scandalised editorials. His manager would appear ashen-faced before the press to announce a hefty fine.
The way we view sport and those who play it professionally is profoundly snobbish. A footballer can behave honourably, supporting all the right charities, remaining loyal to his club under difficult circumstances, and will still be vilified in the press, as David Beckham and Wayne Rooney have been. A rugby player like Cipriani, who has had the advantages of a private education and who belongs to world with fewer in-built pressures, can cheerfully misbehave without his manager, the press or the public worrying in the slightest.
Arsenal’s impressive languages scheme, by contrast, will be the subject of polite, minor interest in the press. An extraordinary initiative which will see players like Cesc Fabregas and Bacary Sagna going into schools to teach languages and football and their manager appearing in a teaching video presents a view of football which contradicts our comfortable prejudices.
This double standard can only be explained by class prejudice. When Cipriani goes clubbing, he belongs to the world of Prince Harry and Chelsey; if he takes a swing at another player, he is expressing the natural zeal of a passionate sportsman. If a young footballer goes off the rails, he is the public face of Saturday night drunkenness and violence, an oik with money.
There is no surprise that competitive, finely tuned, talented young sportsmen misbehave now and then and find life in the public gaze rather difficult. It is the inconsistent, class-ridden attitudes of those on the outside which are more difficult to excuse.
Going for a song – it’s time for recession rock
Something happens when a period of fun-loving decadence crashes into recession, slump and unemployment, and it is almost always surprising. During the late 1920s and the 1930s, a flowering of musical and lyrical talent produced many songs which are still sung today, and still more which should be. Something in the tension between private happiness and public fear; a sense that, because it was so fragile, life and love were to be enjoyed at all costs, produced songs of real intensity and feeling.
Today, any sensible A&R man will be looking for new music – recession rock, perhaps it should be called – which will reflect upon our new age of insecurity. Last time around, the Great Crash brought songs like “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime”, “Pennies From Heaven” and “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries”, and a feast of jazz, country and blues. If we are in for another crash, let us at least hope that some decent music will emerge from it.
A peaceful tradition
There are few more damning words in the lexicon of modern politics than “traditional” or, to give the term its full sneer value, “traditionalist”. So when the Secretary of State for Culture, Andy Burnham, predicts that traditionalists will fear his plan to change public libraries into places of “families and joy and chatter” which will “look beyond the bookcase”, his meaning is clear. Reading books or studying at a public institution will have no place in buzzy Britain.
Perhaps it is time for private libraries to be set up, offering a respite from the tumult of everyday life. No chatter, no mobiles, no family fun, just books and a place to read them in peace. For many, if not for Mr Burnham, that would be the true joy.
Get real Jade, OK!
In a cancer tie-in interview, the reality TV star Jade Goody has revealed that she is planning her funeral: lots of tears and no drunkenness will be the order of the day. Her children have yet to be told that she is seriously ill, she said. Above all, she is absolutely determined that her state of health should not in any way be the subject of media exploitation, she told OK! magazine.