Sport on TV: Smarter than a 10-year-old? Not these parents
Sunday 27 April 2008
Forget Riise and Ronaldo, Thursday night brought far more shame to hang one's head in than the previous two nights put together. I blame the parents. If you thought the ones who stand on football touchlines berating their children were bad, you should have seen them at ringside in 'Strictly Baby Fight Club' watching their five-year-olds beating six bells out of each other. Actually, you're better off not seeing it.
Last month the police in Sussex decided to treat as criminal a video of children fighting which had been posted on YouTube. Now Channel 4 have taken it upon themselves to show a little girl Thai-boxing and her father outside the ropes screaming: "Kick 'er, princess. Go on Miah, lose it!" Dad Darren reflects: "Every time she goes into the ring, there's a danger..." – a long pause, and you think he will recognise the appalling injuries to which he could subject his five-year-old daughter, but no – "... that she'll start crying."
Strangely, she often does. After she and her twin brother, Kian, (the dreadful naming of the kids is the least of our worries here) have fought in front of 400 people at the Horwich Working Men's Club, Miah is distraught. "She's not interested at all now," says Darren. "She'll probably want to do girly things."
Then there's 10-year-old Thai, son of Maxine, who once won the British Thai-boxing title, and Mark, who never won a damned thing. Mark takes Thai off to Latvia to fight in a shed because the children don't wear shinguards there and are allowed "elbows, kicks and punches to the head". Thai prefers fighting in Britain, where he is afforded at least some protection. He loses, and Mark comments: "I dunno what his dream is, probably playing with his soldiers." Perhaps Thai dreams of being big enough to beat up his dad.
At the same time, BBC3 showed 'Child Stars', which followed tennis starlet Oliver, 14, and Calley, 11, who is being groomed as a ski champion. Oliver's astonishing foul-mouthed antics on court and the "beasting up the hill" in scenic Verbier perpetrated on Calley by his seemingly demented father Gary were light relief in comparison.
There was some skimpy justification to the Thai-boxing, that it helps kids who are bullied at school. But that's not the same as charging £35 a head so that 1,000 people can see them brawling in a cage. "You can't get out," says Thai, quietly. "I think they lock it." Believe it or not, it's the parents who decide the rules. They bicker over whether blows to the head are allowed. Thai is sent into the cage without even the boxing helmet required under "European rules" – but not Latvian shed rules.
Maxine screams above the baying crowd: "Stop doin' them shitty little flip kicks." Thai loses, and is told off by the referee for punching his opponent in the head. It's the parents who should be locked in a cage. The kids just end up with stars in their eyes.
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