There has been much tip-toeing around the strange affair of Mo Farah and his hugely rewarded but incomplete appearance in the London Marathon. This is to some degree understandable in that both parties, in their different ways, have become much respected, even beloved national institutions. But it hardly makes it right.
Farah has spent quite a lot of time denying that he has come here from his Oregon training quarters entirely out of greed. However, this has been to avoid the real debate, which should be about the appropriateness of his decision to run half the distance due to be covered by some of the greatest marathon runners of all time, wheelchair multi-gold Paralympic medallist Dave Weir and thousands of charity runners, some of whom will be pounding the streets in rhino suits and other assorted fancy dress.
The problem is that Farah, who helped create some of the most memorable moments in British sport when he won the second of his gold medals on a pulsating night in the Olympic Stadium last summer, has not entered into the heart and meaning of the London Marathon. He has agreed to earn a sizeable chunk of the near £500,000 contract for, in effect, a marathon run next year and a training spin tomorrow. The richest, most ballyhooed training run ever recorded, this is.
This may sound somewhat sacrilegious but, let's be honest, it is rather more germane than the series of non-sequiturs uttered by the hero himself these last few days, most notably his assertion, "I genuinely enjoy my athletics. It's something I did as a kid, a hobby which became my job. It's not nice [to be called mercenary] but the people who know me know I'm not that sort of person."
This is simply not the point. No one who saw and felt the reaction to Farah's superb triumph on that charmed and unforgettable Olympic night could have doubted for a second that he had not only earned himself a permanent place in the regard of his adopted nation but also guaranteed an earning potential far beyond most people's dreams, and especially those of a poor young refugee from Somalia. It was precisely the same in the case of Jessica Ennis, whose superb victory in the heptathlon also ignited the nation. Ennis is now said to be earning £2m a year but no one has begun to question her right.
It is the way of today's sport. A gold medal in a front-rank event, brings glory, and, yes, wealth.
However, we are still scarcely brushing the central issue, which is a situation which would have been quite impossible if the man who founded the London Marathon in 1981 were still alive.
Chris Brasher died 10 years ago after a life of brimming passion, most of it directed at track and field, though in later years there was also a substantial, some said crackpot, obsession with the joys of orienteering. If Brasher had never barnstormed, cajoled, and ceaselessly campaigned for the birth of the London Marathon, he could still have looked back on a career filled with distinction.
In 1954, he was one of Roger Bannister's "rabbits" in the historic four-minute mile. Two years later, he scrapped his way to the 3,000 metres steeplechase Olympic gold in Melbourne – then successfully fought all over again to have himself re-instated after being stripped of the title for some alleged rough-housing of a Norwegian rival.
Brasher was a man you took on only after grave consideration of the fight that would inevitably ensue and had he been alive and in power today it is hard to imagine that the Farah half-marathon project would have got as far as the departure lounge at Portland airport.
Yesterday, a close friend of Brasher – who, incidentally, was accused by the great man of being a "fascist" when he raised the ticket prices at an annual athletics dinner – said: "No one would question Mo Farah's achievements and in today's environment it is not surprising that there has not been much of a fuss about him just running a half marathon. Nor is it likely that anyone would question his right to be well rewarded for his efforts. But then you do have to say that what is happening is surely abhorrent to any purist. Chris Brasher? I'm sure he is turning in his grave."
Why, precisely? Because a marathon is something separate from almost any of the other athletic disciplines. For the sublime runners of Africa and elsewhere it is the supreme challenge – as it plainly was for all those stragglers in the Boston Marathon earlier this week who ran into scenes of horror with such shocked disbelief. One of them, a tall, slim woman, shook with the second explosion, then, before the onset of another reality, looked swiftly to her wrist for her time.
Who knows what distinction and courage Mo Farah will bring to next year's running of the London Marathon? It is reasonable to imagine that it will be impressively considerable. In the meantime, though, he might just understand why someone like Chris Brasher would surely have been much more approving of the approach of one of tomorrow's leading contenders, Geoffrey Mutai.
The 31-year-old Kenyan, who was World Marathon Majors title winner in 2012, and already has six marathon wins, including Boston, New York and Berlin, last year studied the London course from a lead vehicle. Tomorrow he runs for his life and another great prize. It is the way it has always been and should always be, which is to say real and hard and without any fake rehearsal.
Are Alonso and Webber conspiring? Who cares?
Why is it so hard to work up a full head of moral intensity over the outcome of the Bahrain Grand Prix? Possibly it is because of the difficulty of knowing who really should be boycotting or bashing whom.
An additional problem is the lack of candour about which of the Red Bull team is scheduled to win – and at which point will this crucial revelation be forthcoming in the event of another strong performance from Ferrari.
For the moment at least, on trackside one big compulsion, it is being suggested, is to know the purpose of the meeting over dinner of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Red Bull's Mark Webber, the poignantly wronged team-mate of the perennial world champion Sebastian Vettel when he made the outrageous decision to defy team instructions and go for the finish line.
This was curious in that for many years the supremacy of team orders was widely considered to be one of several reasons why Formula One lacked any passing resemblance to legitimate sport.
Were Alonso and Webber hatching a conspiracy? Were they merely having dinner? Did anyone outside their over-heated, over-engineered, over-hyped little world give a damn?
Meanwhile, there was the somewhat marginalised question of whether it was right for F1 to underpin, in exchange for vast amounts of travel-around money, a corrupt and dictatorial pocket kingdom for which the Arab Spring might as well have been a new brand of mineral water.
There was a time when the racing thrilled the blood. Now the trick is to get the old flow started.
Beckham's got talent – for self-promotion
David Beckham is overjoyed, he tells us, to be involved as a full partner in Sky TV's passion to involve young people in sport.
Nor is he displeased, we must imagine, with the £20m contract he can now add to an earning portfolio that seems to grow a little more – sorry, a lot more – with each further step he takes from the reality of having to play football occasionally.
Throw in the deals for minor league football with Los Angeles Galaxy, a cameo or two with Paris Saint-Germain, and another ambassadorial chore for China and it makes at least £60m picked up since his last serious gig at the Bernabeu six years ago.
Better yet, the further he gets from the field, the bigger a player he becomes.
Some may see this as outrageous good fortune. They are wrong. It is self-promotional genius.Reuse content