Leading Article: Can it be right to risk your life for sport?

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
DISASTER IN the pursuit of sporting success prompts an obvious question: why do people take such risks? The loss of Glyn Charles in the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race and the death of climbers in the Scottish mountains have combined to bring this question to the fore, for such tragedies are not uncommon. Sportsmen and women are injured all the time, even after their careers have come to a close: the American sprinter Florence Griffiths- Joiner paid the ultimate price for her peak fitness just months ago.

If is, of course, the case that all sports should be conducted with the maximum concern for the wellbeing of the participants. Meteorologists had warned of storm-force winds when the yachts left Sydney. The avalanche warning in the Scottish Highlands had reached three on a scale of one- to-five before the trainee climbers were taken up above the snow-line. Questions will have to be asked as to whether every precaution was taken.

But, cosseted in our comfortable lives, we recoil from the idea of danger rather more instinctively than logical inquiry suggests. We should remember the dangers we take every day. Thousands of people die on British roads every year. The very act of driving, cycling, or taking the train to work is far more likely to be deadly than the sports we perceive as "dangerous".

And we cannot ignore the fact that some people enjoy danger, and only feel alive when they can sense the peril they are in. Quality of life can supplant length of life for many. We should celebrate such people, and their brave lives which make our existence all the richer, rather than refuse to understand them. In many fields true greatness, sporting or otherwise, can only be attained under the threat of danger: such people have every right to take risks with their own bodies - and their own lives.