James Lawton: Westwood, Kakuta and Carter remind us sport still has the power to inspire

A little joy, a little hope, and a belief in some decency died in the Stade de France
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The Independent Football

Of all the irrationality that has flowed in the wake of the Thierry Henry affair the prize surely must go to those who drone that we should never confuse the ups and downs of sport with those of real life.

It's the schoolmasterly tone that brings on the worst threat of cortical damage. They don't actually say, "pull up a chair, boy, and let me explain something you have missed so pitifully," but they might just as well.

Sport, they say, is really just a bit of a lark occupying a fragment of time and that is why it can be so easily discarded. So Henry broke the rules and won one of the great prizes, a visit to his fourth World Cup, a privilege that George Best was never granted once, but how absurd of the Irish to go on about it as though it was some re-incarnation of the potato famine. But of course that wasn't what the Irish, or appalled neutrals, were suggesting. They were merely saying that something capable of warming every corner of the world when represented by someone like Pele or Ali or Woods, something quite precious this side of the imperatives of life and death, had been terribly cheapened.

The most annoying presumption is that if you care about sport in a way that makes you angry when its values are trashed, as they were so comprehensively in the Stade de France last week, you cannot possibly be exercised by any of the injustices that heap up beyond the boundaries of a sports field.

When one heartsick Irishman complained that Henry's behaviour was less than might have been expected of a chevalier of the Légion d'honneur he was advised by one of our occasional commentators on sport, "Ooh, calm down, dear, it's only a game of football."

Only a game of football, only something that has the power to rivet the world, only a diversion from real life that the French Nobel Prize-winner Albert Camus, former goalkeeper of the Algiers University second XI, claimed had taught him more about the human condition than marathons of intellectual chit-chat with Jean-Paul Sartre in Left Bank cafes.

Ironically enough, Camus is back in the news more than 50 years after he died in a car crash with the proposal of President Sarkozy to move his remains into the company of other French heroes in the Pantheon. What chance Henry such an eventuality with that besmirched ribbon of the legion of honour?

His Barcelona manager, Pep Guardiola, is certainly not optimistic, to judge by his weekend comment, "He's not proud of what happened, and he knows it wasn't good, but it happened very quickly. Besides, it's not as if he ripped someone's ear off." But then if Henry's heroic status is now problematical, and so many of the games we play have never been so besieged by working duplicity, some of us will surely resist the idea of the lecturing persuasion that sport has become as emotionally disposable as an old dishcloth.

Nobody died in the Stade de France but a little joy, a little hope, not to mention a lingering belief that some decency may have survived the pressure to win and augment already vast personal fortunes, did – and dramatically enough to signal growing strength in the argument that technological help for match officials is a necessity that can be delayed no longer.

In the meantime, those who understand that there are sane dividing lines in the various degrees of mourning, and do not really need the patronising guidance and crayon scrawling of those who think they know the secret of separating real and imagined sadness, can only be grateful for sport's unending ability to remind us that if sport is a triviality it can so often be a magnificent one.

Redemption, even at the top of sport's food chain is, after all, never far away. Lee Westwood won £1.65m at the weekend in Dubai, but the expression of satisfaction that covered his face was not about that large injection into an already sumptuously upholstered bank account.

It concerned something he spoke of on a transatlantic flight before the US Masters of 2008. He said he had all the money, the life of ease stretching out before him, but in the little time he had left at the top of his game he wanted to prove something to himself and all those, including the great Gary Player, who believed that he had not made the best of himself as a competitor.

His superb performance at the weekend, a classic of concentration and will, was a climax to two years of steady progress which suggests that he may yet win his first major title.

What Westwood was saying on that plane, and which he has been more or less relentlessly repeating each time he has gone on to the course, is that if sport has given him a life of fabulous rewards it has also provided him with a purpose. It is to satisfy himself that he ultimately will not have neglected his gifts. A metaphor for real life, a mere mirror, you may say, but it is solid enough to Westwood when he measures a winning putt – and to those who saw in his performance a triumph of will that was as tangible as any you might find in most walks of life.

If the consequences of sport can be tossed away like chip paper, why bother with it in the first place? On this basis, such matters as the dazzling debut of Chelsea's controversially acquired teenager Gaël Kakuta and some of the sublime touches of All Black maestro Dan Carter are beneath the consideration of intelligent men. So why were so many moved from their seats in moments of sudden intoxication? It was because they were seeing something inventive and brilliant in the human condition, something they would not want to be marred in any preventable way.

The belief here is they would not be ones Albert Camus would have told to pull up their chairs.

England rugby management sailing straight for disaster

More depressing, almost unimaginably, than England's latest clanking exploration of attacking futility against New Zealand is the reaction of the top brass at Twickenham.

RFU chairman Martyn Thomas made the keynote speech of denial when he declared, "Martin [Johnson] is getting on with the job and we can be satisfied with Saturday. Martin is a winner. Martin will lead us into the World Cup in 2011, for sure. This is a guy who doesn't walk away from things."

Captain Steve Borthwick also picks up the baton carried by Johnson and his coaches in their increasingly bizarre claims that, despite the evidence on the pitch, great things are happening in the psychology of the squad. Borthwick said he was disappointed that former England players Josh Lewsey and Will Greenwood had "crossed the line" in their criticisms of English management.

It is time to ask precisely what England are running at the moment, a team with serious aspirations on the international stage or a club in which membership is sealed right up to the very point of disaster?

Surely it is time for the Twickenham gang to bury their pride and face some unwelcome facts, the most obvious being that ever since the departure of Sir Clive Woodward they have been sailing in unknown seas. They have now only one serious option. It is to send up a flare.

Spurs rout would leave sour taste in the States

It was graceful of Harry Redknapp to show a little feeling for the plight of his ravaged opposite number Roberto Martinez after Spurs ran amok against Wigan Athletic.

Redknapp recalled how he lost his first match as manager of Bournemouth by 9-0 to Lincoln City in 1983 and explained how the memory of it still cuts like a knife.

In North America, however, Redknapp's charitable instincts would surely have been thrown back in his face. Indeed, fisticuffs have been exchanged between NFL and College coaches at the end of lop-sided games.

This is because of what Europeans would no doubt consider an odd convention. It is one that holds it to be a crime against sportsmanship to "run up the score," that when a contest is over it is over and embellishment of the winning margin is not only less than commendable but seriously bad taste.

Perhaps when the exhilaration created by a superb attacking performance wanes somewhat, Redknapp or coach Joe Jordan will explain the American theory to some of the players, especially Jermain Defoe. Should it happen, though, Defoe might want to employ an Americanism of his own: the one that goes, "Say what?"