Dark ages need some light relief

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The Independent Online
A BIG sporting difference between then and now was succinctly stated on television this week by Stirling Moss. 'We enjoyed ourselves,' he said, implying that today's heroes of Formula One get no great pleasure from their profession.

In common with most onlookers I have not myself inquired deeply into this, but the unavoidable impression is that it applies to just about every sporting activity.

What Moss had in mind was the comradeship he enjoyed as one of the great performers in Formula One before the onset of commercialism and an explosion in the telecommunications industry. As Moss recalled it, the drivers competed for all they were worth but still found time to collectively engage in extra-curricular activity. 'In the main we got on very well,' he said when appearing on Sport in Question with two other golden oldies, Denis Compton and Henry Cooper. 'We went around together and after every Grand Prix there was always a party.'

Doubtless, Moss and his contemporaries sometimes expressed extreme irritation, as anybody would in such a perilous line of work, but in the main they conducted themselves creditably. They appeared to have an uncomplicated appreciation of opportunity and a capacity for honest, unquestioning gratitude. By comparison with the wealth available today, the rewards were negligible but probably all the survivors would agree with Moss when he says: 'Without changing anything personally I would go back and do it all over again.'

It is an illuminating sentence and exposes the fradulence of an attitude to sport that unfortunately has been laid down as a blueprint for the future. The attitude I have in mind is that which calls levity into question. Continually we see sport bow before the contemptible belief that failure cannot be tolerated now matter how unfortunate the circumstances and that good manners is irrefutable proof of weakness.

In the general lamentations over this you occasionally detect a yearning for eccentrics or at least performers who go about things happily. Interestingly, one of the things about Jurgen Klinsman that appeals to the supporters of Tottenham Hotspur is that he appears to take the job more seriously than he does himself. This may have a lot to do with an awareness that he is a great deal better off than the majority.

When abolitionists insist that boxing has no redeeming qualities they overlook examples of honest purpose that put other sports to shame. For example, before an alleged defence of the World Boxing Organisation championship by Chris Eubank against Sam Storey in Cardiff last week, two moderate boxers, Peter Harris of Swansea and Wilson Docherty of Scotland, gave everything in the most sporting manner imaginable over 12 hard rounds and probably for less than even average footballers earn in a week.

After many years at the ringside I still find it difficult to imagine how anyone can enjoy engaging in such gruelling activity and yet both men finished the contest smiling, immediately falling into an embrace. When set against the crass postures adopted by today's burgeoning corps of sporting millionaires it was an uplifting experience. There are plenty of examples of attitudes that endorse what Moss was going on about.

Of course, there is no going back. Values are different and commercialism corrupts. Success is the only yardstick. We are frequently confronted with new knowledge about sport that is disturbing. As for the laughing cavaliers, when did you last come across one?