Drink deep of this advice

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The Independent Online
IF NOTHING else, this column certainly brings you the big names in sport. After Ben Johnson beat Carl Lewis in the 100 metres at Seoul with the help of his great chum Stan O'Zolol, the name everyone's talking about at these Olympics is the weightlifter's friend Clem Buterol, a complete unknown that has already defeated two lifters and could account for many more yet . . .

Still, there's always good news, even in the wacky world of performance-enhancing drugs, and many sportsmen will have been cheered by the experiment soon to be undertaken by Astrid Strauss, the German swimmer who failed a drugs test a couple of months ago. Desperate to acquit her of these terrible charges, the German sports authorities have instructed her to drink huge amounts of beer, to establish whether alcohol makes the body produce abnormal quantities of steroids. Some dispassionate commentators might identify a certain lack of integrity in this plan of action, not to mention liberal lashings of humbug. But the phrase that caught my attention here was 'huge amounts of beer'. Could it be that booze has a more constructive role in sporting life than we previously thought?

After all, sport and the hard stuff have been closely associated for many years. Many professional sportspersons like a drop, and one or two commentators often seem completely submerged well before the final whistle. Gargle companies sponsor everything in sight, and there are few more magical phrases in the language than 'hospitality tent'. It's fairly amazing, in the circumstances, that any sport ever gets played at all.

It's in the lower echelons of sporting life, though, that alcohol really makes its presence felt. As a sportsman of moderate skills myself, I have frequently taken recourse to the glug in moments of great stress, and have found the results highly satisfactory. Snooker, for instance, is no sort of game to be played sober, unless by some bizarre accident of fate you are very good at it. If you play the sort of game in which the majority of points are scored by unforced fouls, the odd guzzle can help you pull off the most remarkable trick shots, such as the one where the cue ball hits the right ball into the right pocket. Few such games ever reach any sort of conclusion, admittedly, but at least if you lose, you'll have other things to worry about the following morning.

Similarly, Sunday morning football, that bizarre form of self- deception that allows you to pretend you are still a sportsman after all, is less an athletic exercise than one big excuse to leap into the lagers after the final whistle. Drinking before or during the match - as I'm told one or two of the country's more popular professionals like to do - is not such a good idea, however; when four identical footballs come flying in your direction five minutes later, it's odds on that you will attempt to kick the wrong one. The resulting freewheeling gyroscopic motion could well damage your credibility as a gritty ball-winning midfield maestro - not to mention your hamstring, groin, cartilage and Achilles tendon, thus dooming you to sober Sundays for the foreseeable future.

Golf, too, is an interesting game to play when savagely oiled. Anyone like me who has a handicap in the low hundreds can find it unnerving to step out on to the first tee to be sneered at by groups of fat businessmen in leisure wear. A swift one at the 0th hole (why they call it the 19th is beyond me) obliterates all such concerns, making it all the more likely that you will actually hit the ball the requisite 40 yards to get out of earshot. When completing your stroke, though, it's vitally important to remember not to let go of the club.

Needless to say, serious sportspersons look upon such high jinks with dismay bordering on contempt, and rush off for a quick shower, followed by 4,000 press- ups. Astrid Strauss could change all that. If alcohol does prove to produce large quantities of steroids, sad pre-match boozers like me will become universally admired and emulated. Hip-flasks will be de rigueur on every sports field. People wanting to keep fit won't bother exercising; they'll just stay in the pub.

And then, before you know it, George Best will be making a come-back . . .

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