Delusions of Santa

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The Independent Online
IT MAY just be a seasonal fancy, but sport appears to be overrun by a large number of gentlemen who think they are Father Christmas. The main symptoms of this Santafysing, if I can coin a word, is the donning of the white beard of wisdom, the taking of an authoritative stance in shiny black boots and the handing out of gifts and favours not remotely in accordance with the wishes of the recipients.

On this very day over in Las Vegas, Joao Havelange, the president of Fifa, is laying claims to being the daddy of all white-haired old Christmas supremos by attempting to deny us the sight of Pele at the World Cup draw, which will be televised worldwide.

We can be promised an overdose of tinselled bullshit and ballyhoo as the 24 qualifying teams are sorted into six groups but the greatest footballer of our times might not be making his usual appearance at the occasion. Pele is being excluded from the event because he is engaged in a legal battle with the Brazilian FA president, Ricardo Teixeira.

Besides being highly promising Father Christmas material himself, Teixeira is also Havelange's son-in-law and is suing Pele for daring to write nasty things about the way the Brazilian football rulers conduct their business. After all that the Havelange family have done for football, Pele should be ashamed of himself but his absence would at least leave a larger share of today's spotlight in which Joao can bathe in the fulfilment of his ambition to take the World Cup to the United States.

He could have taken it to the Gobi Desert as far as 90 per cent of Americans are concerned but he wouldn't consider that to be his fault. They might have been more interested had Havelange not been thwarted in his attempt to make the goals bigger for their amusement and to split the game into quarters instead of halves so that television commercials could be more easily accommodated. He will be happy, nevertheless, to be demonstrating his paternal power at his festive time.

HARDLY in the same Santa class but eager to try on the garb of Yuletide omnipotence is the Welsh FA which, on Thursday, also tried to demonstrate the control it has over mere mortals by showing Terry Yorath who was boss after he had asked for a pay rise.

Yorath was under the shadow of a spent contract while guiding his team to within a missed penalty of qualfying for the World Cup. His was not an unusual situation, and several managers have lost their jobs since failing to qualify, but had Wales been successful it would have been the most unexpected of all passages to the 1994 World Cup. In this and previous championships he took Wales to the wire in the most difficult of qualifying groups and created an impetus of immense promise.

Two weeks ago, he was asked how much he would require under a new contract and he, not surprisingly, asked for a figure in excess of his present pounds 45,000, which is way down the lower end of the football pay scale. Last week they went public with the announcement that his demand was too high and his contract would not be renewed. If they didn't want him to continue they should have told him. If they do, they should be negotiating in a proper and less public manner.

At 43 years of age and armed with progressive ideas about the development of the game generally in Wales, Yorath has the ability to be the best manager Wales have ever had. By no means a rich body, the Welsh FA has a reputation for being tight-fisted but unless it moves quickly to correct this botched demonstration of lordliness it will be ham-fistedness it will damned for.

THE Rugby Football Union has far less trouble with payments because it does not make many, at least not to those who sweat on its behalf. Its personification of Father Christmas is its secretary, Dudley Wood, who delivers homilies on the evils of professionalism in much the same tone he would use to explain to a toddler why he can't have a train set.

It is regrettable that the same trouble is not taken to explain to the lad why the other boys are allowed to keep stamping on his face. Hence, the All Blacks have left behind a nasty trace without any official rebuke, and violence at club level seems also to be treated with a lack of concern for the victims and an unwillingness to pursue the perpetrators.

But notes stuck up the chimney carrying criticism from players are to be acted upon with chilling rapidity. More than any other two players, Will Carling and Brian Moore epitomise the style and aggression of the England team during their great accomplishments of the past two years and yet their views on the All Blacks expressed in newspaper articles are to be the subject of an RFU inquiry.

There's even a threat that players who speak out may find themselves overlooked by the selectors. Santa would not be calling in future.

NO ONE takes up the old fellow's role with more gusto than the BBC. It organises a Christmas sporting party, dresses up its presenters, plays video games, shows hours of its home movies and hands out prizes to the most deserving sportsmen and women.

Unfortunately, it may not be able to justify the words 'most deserving' any longer. The main awards, which were voted by viewers, went to Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell and Nigel Mansell. We are not told how many votes were cast for each, nor are any independent invigilators introduced to us.

I am sure, however, that we can take their word for it. But by whom was Greg Norman adjudged to be the Overseas Personality of the Year? How close did Allan Border come in the assessment?

That question is nothing compared to the furore over the selection of the England rugby side as team of the year on the grounds of one victory, as famous as it might have been, when the exploits of the England women's cricket team in winning the World Cup were apparently overlooked. Questions have reached the House of Commons. A less vague system may have to be introduced next year.

FINALLY, we come to Mark H McCormack, who is agent to some of the biggest stars in the world and a supreme organiser who is bidding to run the entire sporting globe, if he doesn't do so already.

Even when you criticise his grip on sport he still sends a Christmas card talking of peace, hope and love. And when you look at what he has done for the likes of Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam, he probably is Father Christmas.