Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sport: one melodrama after another

(First published in The Dominion Post, March 8.)
SPORT has morphed into pure soap opera.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this happened; perhaps somewhere between David Beckham and Tiger Woods.

There have always been occasional instances of sportsmen whose lives became tabloid newspaper fodder (the footballers George Best and Diego Maradona come to mind), but these days it’s constant.
Just think back over the past few months. It’s been one melodrama after another.

There was Lance Armstrong fessing up as a drugs cheat on Oprah’s TV show, a spectacle watched by millions.  
Before that, there was the overwrought weeping and wailing over Black Caps captain Ross Taylor’s sacking by new coach Mike Hesson (a man I can’t see without being reminded of the character Brains from Thunderbirds).

There was the slow, painful unravelling, week by week, of the Wellington Phoenix – a saga that came complete with a textbook villain (Gareth Morgan) and a stoical hero (Ricki Herbert), nobly sacrificing himself for the greater good.
There was the pantomime surrounding media darling Sonny Boy Williams’ boxing match with the “lumbering oaf” (Sir Bob Jones’ description) Francois Botha – a fight that was supposed to go for 12 rounds but was suddenly and inexplicably reduced to 10 when it seemed Botha was getting the upper hand.

So many allegations and counter-allegations flew around in the aftermath of that encounter that the media hardly knew which way to turn – not that it mattered, since boxing is now so irredeemably sleazy that you have to wonder who still takes it seriously.
But wait, there’s more. There was the international media frenzy over the death of Oscar “Bladerunner” Pistorius’s glamorous girlfriend.

There was the sensational case of talented young English cricketer Tom Maynard, fatally hit by a train while on drink and drugs and fleeing from police. Even the Coro Street scriptwriters would have been hard-pressed to come up with a more dramatic storyline.
And what about Australian rugby league glamour boy Ben Barba, very publicly heading for a private clinic to deal with his personal “issues” while his managers wrung their hands and solemnly vowed to stand by their wayward idol? It all seems tediously familiar.
Former All Black Zac Guildford, too, was back in the headlines as he prepared to face disciplinary proceedings over an alleged assault, although nothing so dramatic as the famous Rarotonga incident in which he got drunk, took his clothes off and started hitting people.

Now he has been joined in the naughty corner by cricketer Jeetan Patel – injured, we are told, in an “alcohol-fuelled” (aren’t they always?) altercation with a pub bouncer. Explanation: he was struggling to cope with the death of his mother. Pure soap.
In the circumstances, it seemed almost anti-climactic to watch this week’s prissy tut-tutting over the behaviour of Black Cap Doug Bracewell, whose only offence was having a few rowdy mates around to watch the rugby. For goodness sake, couldn’t he have managed a drunken brawl or drug overdose? At least that might have justified all the fuss.

To think that sporting heroes such as Brian Lochore, Peter Snell and Bob Charles lived their lives in the public spotlight without a whiff of scandal or notoriety. What a dull lot they must have been.
* * *
AS SOMEONE brought up in Hawke’s Bay, I wince when I hear people refer to it as the Hawke’s Bay.

It was never described thus when I lived there. It was simply Hawke’s Bay, as it should be.
The only explanation for the use of the definite article is that it’s a convention applied to some other regions. For example, we talk about the Waikato, the Manawatu and the Wairarapa.

But there’s no logical consistency here. We don’t refer to the Otago or the Taranaki, still less to the Northland or the Southland. Why the definite article attaches itself to some regional names but not others is a mystery.
What we need is a statutory body empowered to impose some consistency and slap heavy fines on non-compliers. In fact I would like to nominate myself as chief executive, with a salary of – oh, $250,000 sounds about right, with a performance bonus thrown in, which would of course be paid regardless of how poorly I did the job.

* * *

THE LATE Phillip Leishman personified a species of broadcaster fast approaching extinction.
He wasn’t flamboyant and he didn’t have a big ego. He had a style New Zealanders related to easily: not flashy, but relaxed and personable.

It was probably just as well that Leishman carved himself a niche in the last 15 years of his life with his golf programme, HSBC Golf Club, because mainstream television programmers have long since lost interest in broadcasters like Leishman. Wrong age, wrong sex.
The sole survivor of that breed is Peter Williams, another consummate professional. I hope I’m not putting a hex on him by pointing this out.



Vaughan said...

As people abandon religion, they need something to replace it as a means of transcending this mortal life with its woes and threats and periods of boredom.

So they elevate sport beyond its healthy role as a pastime and make it a pseudo-religion.

Once cathedrals were the biggest and flashest building in town. Now we show our priorities by putting a lot of money into sports arenas.

Instead of selfless saints, we have young sportspeople who develop skills to entertain us.

I like to watch sports but I hope I put them in perspective.

Steve said...

As someone who worked in TV for a while with Peter Williams, I have to agree wholeheartedly. A real pro.