James Lawton: From McDowell to Iniesta: the stars who saved 2010

Our writer reflects on a frequently grim 12 months in sport but takes succour from the likes of Amy Williams' golden moment and Spain's uplifting World Cup triumph

Sport always lights a candle in the wind, even when it is blowing most bleakly, and this passing year was no exception: it gave us, supremely, Andres Iniesta winning a World Cup and confirming the brilliance of Spanish football, and also Rafa Nadal and Manny Pacquiao.

It offered Graeme McDowell's Ryder Cup-winning putt and Tim Bresnan's decisive Ashes delivery and Lee Westwood's reward for stopping and thinking about who he was and who he might be – the top ranking in world golf – and there also the thrilling sight of the mad, magnificent West Country girl Amy Williams hurtling down the ice for gold and Mark Cavendish sprinting phenomenally in the Tour de France.

There was also A P McCoy, winning the Grand National and at last recognised by the British public, but then of course there is always A P McCoy.

There is little point, though, in avoiding a darker issue.

Perhaps as never before had we been in greater need of such joyous and rejuvenating images of superb sportsmen and women. They were, after all, a counterbalance to the sometimes overwhelming sense that sport had never been so poorly directed, never so rotten in its defence of something that has always been capable of lifting the mood of all people, however oppressed and disenchanted.

You could take a blindfold and stick a pin in the map of sport and find reason for despair.

You might land it in Twickenham, and see the appalling evasions and amorality that came in the wake of the Bloodgate scandal. You might settle on Zurich and revisit the monstrous deliberations of Fifa in its assignments of World Cups stretching all the way to 2022, leaving the world's greatest sports event all locked up for no better reason than money had spoken again in a hard and most cynical voice. You could drop the pin in any Formula One circuit and find machinations which shamed the concept of competitive sport.

You could stumble upon Old Trafford and find Wayne Rooney, in the year in which he had come down from the mountain top to a poverty of form and behaviour, holding Manchester United up for ransom. Just a few miles across the city you could consider the nadir of professionalism represented by the posturing of Carlos Tevez.

For some of us, though, the most haunting image of all came in the beautiful city of Vancouver, when representatives of the British Columbia Coroners Service, the International Luge Federation and the International Olympic Committee lacked only the bowl of water and the towel of Pontius Pilate when they pronounced on the death of the young Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.

They announced that Kumaritashvili, who had been permitted only a fraction of the practice runs granted to the host nation Canada, had caused his own death and there was no deficiency in the Whistler Mountain run that had already been described as the fastest and the most dangerous in the world. Kumaritashvili, the officials declared, had failed to "compensate" sufficiently at the fatal bend.

So why was the track shortened and made safer and the conditions of racing changed so profoundly? Because of the shortcomings of one poorly prepared fringe competitor? Or because the truth was quite different, and already expressed by the manager of the powerful American team, who said that the limits of safety had been pushed dangerously in the building of a track guaranteed only to be spectacular?

When the boy's father took possession of his son's body – and the President of Georgia came to the poor mountain village – he said: "I wanted to throw a wedding feast for you, instead you had a funeral."

A few days later Tiger Woods stood up at an entirely different social occasion in Florida and made a mea culpa for an adulterous past which had been fastidiously concealed.

There was much preachy reaction to his plea for forgiveness, many claims that his strings were pulled by his corporate investors, and one American commentator declared, "Tiger, I don't accept your apology," but then who was drawing the moral parameters, and who in the running of sport could claim entirely clean hands?

Not the cricket authorities, certainly, when the Pakistan spot-fixing disaster plunged the game into a fever of doubt. Mohammad Amir didn't lose his life, not like the tragic Kumaritashvili, but it was diminished, terribly, and could be held up as a shocking example of how sport had neglected to provide care and example for one of its shining assets.

Amir bowled beautifully at Lord's on the eve of his downfall, but now he was a pariah, treated with outright contempt by Giles Clarke, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who had so recently and warmly embraced the patronage of a man who was later charged by the American authorities with massive fraud.

It meant that you were required both to cherry-pick and hoard the moments of redemption.

One of them, in the gloom of England's shocking failure in the World Cup, was the ability of Iniesta and the Spaniards to carry a torch for the beauty of football, and the ability of some its most gifted players, to deliver the best and the most creative of talent. Had the Dutch, who had promised so much more, won with their thuggish approach to the final, it would have been an unspeakable crisis for football. By year's end the game could not escape such a fate, but that was not the work of Iniesta, the Little Man from La Mancha, but Fifa president Sepp Blatter and his cronies.

They made their big money in South Africa, quite relentlessly, which made it doubly poignant that the South African people, for all their difficulties, still produced a magnificent statement about the value of the tournament that now, in the most dubious way, has passed into the control of the highest bidder.

One of the most unforgettable sights in South Africa came on a drive back to Johannesburg from the Soccer City stadium.

It was of a young African, quite alone, standing on the brow of a hill looking down on the sweep of the valley stretching back to the stadium fashioned in the shape and the colours of a great cooking pot. He was very still, very slim and lithe. He appeared, from a distance, as though he was capable of running great distances. But now he stood and looked down so impassively.

He might have been a South African version of Nodar Kumaritashvili or Mohammad Amir. He might have been entertaining dreams of his own. If he was, we know well enough how perilous they were. But then we also knew, reassuringly, that he would be right to pursue them.

Sport may not be blessed by the quality of so much of the leadership it receives, it may be overly receptive to the forces of greed and ruthlessness, but there is something about it too strong, too inspired, to be permanently compromised.

Just when we suspect that it may be so, an Iniesta goes on a run, a Pacquiao delivers a one-two combination that shakes the earth and Kevin Pietersen, daft old KP, hits a straight drive that might have come out of the barrel of a gun. Then we know the games we play will make it to another year, still alive with the possibilities of glory, still promising the world.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Sport
Moeen Ali wearing the 'Save Gaza' and 'Free Palestine' wristbands on his left arm
sport
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Extras
indybest
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on