Kevin Garside: The Oscar Pistorius case is an extreme instance of why indulging sporting celebrities can be so damaging

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The fate of Oscar Pistorius demonstrates the canyon-size gap that exists between reality and perception in the world of the über athlete, and the dangers involved when the separation spirals out of control. Thank heavens then for blokes like Chris Froome, who despite defeat at the Vuelta to the remarkable Alberto Contador, showed that nobility is still a feature of elite sport.

The packaged space into which our stellar sportsmen and women are shoe-horned in order to project their improbable achievements or hawk commercial wares is a distorting feature of the modern sporting experience. When the late Sir Tom Finney was a lad there was little distinction to be drawn between the way he lived his life and those who cheered him on.

In cricket we had gentlemen and players, and folk tales in coal-rich Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Notts of bowlers being brought to the surface in a lift after the call went out down t’ pit for extra pace.

Oh for days of yore when sport was a diversion not a distortion, when participants and spectators walked the same path and our trust was not something to be manipulated.

Pistorius found himself at the perverse extremities of the warped world into which fame and wealth propels his ilk. Clearly his personal circumstances, meshed with the unique environment of a rapidly changing South Africa, brought him to a lethal juncture that cost the life of an innocent woman in her prime. Not every overly empowered megastar with a sense of entitlement has the same crazed tendencies, but they share common, alienating features.

 

In many cases we are talking about personalities not properly formed or even inadequate. Witness the travails of Freddie Flintoff, persuaded to tell all to Piers Morgan in a life story that demonstrated how far a big, daft lad will go to live out the expectations of others. The pedalo incident in the West Indies was a classic of its type. Poor chap was in a stupor and thought he might seek out that ineluctable totem from a previous cricketing age, Ian Botham, thought to be aboard a yacht in the Caribbean. Having first sought a kayak to traverse the ocean, he went with the foot-powered option instead.

“The next morning I woke up, I was on my bed... still wet, sand between my toes. Then the door knocked. I thought it was the maid wanting to clean the room. So I said, ‘Can you come back?’ But it was the coach. I answered the door, and then Duncan [Fletcher] just said, ‘My room – now’.”

We now know how the simulacrum of bravado masked real issues that the “Freddie” construct could never allow into the light. Low self-esteem and body image concerns, characterised by bouts of bulimia, contrasted sharply with the public relations creation. It was easier to be daft Fred, to live up to and reinforce the caricature he had become on the field of play.

The truth is brand Freddie and Andrew Flintoff were miles apart.

The rapidly acquired accoutrements of celebrity are immediately empowering. A little like a child being handed the keys to the chocolate factory, the leap into nirvana is head-first and frequently ends badly. Fame creates the illusion that you can get away with stuff, that there are no consequences attached to the things you do.

There was another classic example of the cocoon in which the overpaid, over-hyped sportsman – in this case a footballer – exists. I give you the TOWIE-clad Tom Cleverley, who in an interview broadcast by the BBC, conducted by veteran Midlands football reporter Pat Murphy, laid responsibility for his ham-fisted loan move to Aston Villa at the errant feet of his agent.

His account of the events that took him from Manchester United to Villa Park via negotiations with Everton defied belief. The player was not at fault, apparently, for the excessive wage demands. That would be the appointed representative acting on his behalf. Not even the Essex high-priestess on his arm would believe that.

Here was a player who believed he was beyond the rules of engagement that govern mortals like us because in every aspect of his life he is rarely called to account. He does as he wishes when he wishes and too few say no to him.

This is precisely the attitude that led Freddie to get pissed in the Caribbean thinking he might float out to sea for a nightcap with Beefy free from reality’s pernicious reach. It led Pistorius into an altogether darker place with tragic result.

It’s not all bad. Froome’s ding-dong with Contador re-states the core integrity that still exists in the endeavours of some.

For three weeks Froome has clung to Contador, tried to break him on the high peaks, and each time the Spaniard has jumped off his wheel on the final climbs to establish supremacy. “Emptied the tank out there today. What a battle,” Froome tweeted after falling a fraction short on Saturday’s penultimate stage up to Puerto de Ancares.

What a man.

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