Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The celebrity cult that has contaminated sport

(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, April 12.)

FAMOUS English football manager Harry Redknapp can’t understand why Manchester United’s star striker Wayne Rooney behaves like a spoiled brat. Perhaps I can help.

Commenting on Rooney’s expletive-laden outburst into a TV camera after he scored a hat-trick of goals against West Ham, Redknapp said he didn’t remember Bobby Charlton (legendary Manchester United player of the 1960s) doing that.

“Why do these young players have to be so angry with the world?” Redknapp continued. “I don’t know why. They are getting hundreds of thousands of pounds a week.”

Well, exactly. Redknapp has answered his own question.

Sports stars like Rooney behave like spoiled brats because they are spoiled brats. Feted and fawned over, pumped up by media attention and preposterous salaries (Rooney is reportedly on £250,000 a week, or $525,000 in our terms), they ooze braggadocio and hubris.

That they lack any personal discipline should come as no surprise to anyone. Petulant behaviour and attention-seeking come with the territory.

This is the price we pay for the celebrity cult that has contaminated sport, spawning a generation of cosseted, self-absorbed and thoroughly unpleasant individuals of whom Rooney is merely the latest example.

Part of the problem, as former England test cricketer Ed Smith observed in a recent article in The Spectator, is that there’s no balance in the lives of highly paid sporting professionals. They live in a bubble, disconnected from the real world.

Oafish prima donnas like Rooney would be brought back to earth with a thump if they had Monday-to-Friday jobs in an office or factory, or spouses demanding that they paint the roof and change the baby’s nappies.

Here in New Zealand we have our own celebrity sports stars, many of whom seem confused about whether they belong on the sports field or the cover of women’s magazines. Thankfully they don’t include anyone as obnoxious as Rooney, but they do show worrying symptoms of the same self-absorption and star syndrome.

It’s instructive to recall that in 1987, when the All Blacks were preparing for the first Rugby World Cup under Brian Lochore, they were taken by bus to the tiny South Wairarapa settlement of Pirinoa and billeted with local farming families. Now only the best hotels suffice for the ABs and their ever-expanding retinue of attendants.

That, of course, was the only World Cup New Zealand has won. Perhaps there’s a moral there somewhere.

* * *

AT LAST we are seeing a point of difference emerging between the Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee National and Labour parties. It’s not much, but it’s something.

It’s all to do with public spending and the size of government. National has seized on the ballooning cost of the Christchurch quake, which has exacerbated our already bleak economic predicament and mounting public debt, as an excuse for doing what a conservative government should do anyway: namely, reduce the level of government, and in particular the disproportionate share of the economy accounted for by state spending.

This is heresy to Labour, which clings to its touching belief in the ability of big government to solve every problem, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

One of the eternal verities of politics is that it’s much easier for politicians to give something than to take it away, as demonstrated by the howls of outrage over cuts to subsidised early childhood education (spending on which had reportedly trebled over five years to $1.4 billion, for very little benefit).

The same is true of public service numbers. Few people sounded the alarm when the number of public servants climbed by 10,000 under Labour, but when numbers are cut back by a mere one-fifth of that figure, the outcry is deafening.

* * *

OH DEAR. The shambles on Wellington suburban railway lines goes from bad to worse. Barely a day goes by without anguished letters in the paper lamenting delays, overcrowding, the replacement of trains with buses and the non-appearance of the long-promised Matangi trains.

The new Korean-built trains are rapidly assuming the mythic status of the Loch Ness monster. People claim to have seen one; some even profess to have ridden in one. But as the weeks pass, public scepticism grows. It’s only a matter of time before train spotters start turning up at the Dominion Post with fuzzy photographs, taken from a distance in poor light, as proof of the trains’ existence.

No one should doubt the ideological commitment of Greater Wellington regional council (sorry, Te Pane Matua Taiao) to public transport. The fleet of empty buses I see trundling around the roads of the Wairarapa – buses that no one asked for, as far as I can ascertain – is proof that the council is determined to get us out of our cars, even if it goes bankrupt in the process. But the trains fiasco makes you wonder whether the council’s commitment is matched by the ability to deliver.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

re the middle comment on political parties, which apparently don't have spoiled brats acting like celebrities, I will point to a bit of history. If you looked at the statistics on public debt issued, I think you would find that it was the conservative governments that spent the most, or certainly created the most public debt. This was particularly the case in the 1920s, and 1960-70s, when there was either no, or only a one-term Labour Government. So fit that into the theory about big government, and after editing out Massey/Coates and Holyoake/Muldoon.