Drugs are small beer to the so what generation

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The Independent Online
THE OTHER day I fell into conversation with a group of young people who have a wide interest in sporting activity and think themselves typical of a rising generation.

I was bemoaning, as we all should, the clamour of scandal that fills the sports pages and broadcasts these days, and makes television presentation of sport seem more fatuous than ever.

Immediately, I sensed the suppression of a yawn. You see, a truth, and a hard truth for some of us to swallow, is that the majority of younger folk are not deeply disturbed when evidence of chicanery in sport is set before them.

For example, the festering issue of who has been up to what in the Olympic movement was shruggingly dismissed as inevitable in an era of rampant commercialism and therefore not worth bothering about.

No sports scandal sets off more indignant editorials than charges of narcotic assistance, but modern cynicism dictates that very few track and field athletes are now held to be above suspicion. "What else can you expect when the rewards are so great, when winning can set a person up for life," one of my young friends stated.

Whenever something occurs to cast sport in an unfavourable light, somebody is quick to say, "The authorities should have anticipated this," or "past administrations would never have stood for it."

On some occasions that may be so, but if it's true, as it appears to be, that values have got screwed up, how did this come about?

Some of you may find it astonishing to discover that only 20 years have passed since amateurism was still so vigorously upheld in athletics that the American high jumper Dwight Stones was ordered to hand back around $33,000 won in a televised Superstars competition.

Shortly afterwards, Stone came as clean as he possibly could when disqualified in Poland for a technical infringement. "This is my living," he complained to the judges.

Nowadays, the urge to take up sport is often the urge to make a great deal of money. The tone of sport in the last decade of this millennium has been set by the elite, the richest games people who have sweated their way up to prodigious salaries, are admiringly interviewed by sycophants and receive the adoring attention that was once reserved for movie stars.

If sport has acquired a sense of modern reality, it is no less an admission that all things are not better than they used to be.

Recently, I was discussing this with the great Welsh outside-half and esteemed broadcaster Cliff Morgan, who is unashamedly a rugby romantic and grateful for the good things that have happened to him.

Dwelling bleakly on the vast damage caused by rugby's blind plunge into professionalism, Morgan spoke about how rich he is from the game - not in cash but in memories. "I know things have to move on," he said, "but frankly I don't think rugby was ever meant to be professional. Professionalism has taken away the game's soul."

The juxtaposition of the sports and financial sections in most newspapers is appropriate. Escalating salaries, share issues, ludicrously inflated transfer fees, takeovers, ever increasing prize-money, spiralling sponsorship.

When a highly dubious penalty kick enabled Chelsea to force a fourth- round FA Cup replay this week, as much was made of heartening effect it would have on Oxford United's serious financial problems as the disappointment their players felt over just failing to achieve a major upset.

That is where football now stands and a rocky stance it is with any number of clubs in desperate financial circumstances.

"Maybe so," one of my young friends countered, "but look at the benefits. Football has never been more popular and television brings us sports events live from all over the world."

A clue to sports future lies, I believe, in the growing and perhaps irreversible conviction of the young that most things are acceptable as long as they don't dampen the lust for entertainment.

Bearing that in mind it is easy to conjure up - hell, it's impossible not to imagine - what an ugly face sport will present to the world in the world of tomorrow.