More than one listener to the radio station TalkSport this week has ventured to suggest that Paula Radcliffe should have been upbraided, perhaps even prosecuted, for choosing to empty her bowels by the side of the road during the London Marathon. She should be treated no more leniently than a tramp urinating Special Brew into the gutter, was the gist of their argument.
After all, there is a law against peeing and pooing in public, and this may well have been the most public poo in the entire history of pooing. Moreover, unlike most tramps, she is a role model for youngsters. So why was the law not enforced?
All of which says far more about TalkSport listeners than it does about Radcliffe, and yet Paula's Poo-gate made me think about bodily functions in sport, a thought that was compounded on Wednesday evening when viewers of Sky Sports 2 were told that Everton's Tim Cahill was late onto the Goodison Park pitch for the second half of the match against Manchester United because he had just vomited in the tunnel. You will remember, too, the sight of Zinedine Zidane having a discreet little puke before calmly slotting home a penalty against England in Euro 2004.
Whatever the TalkSport listeners think, I take the view that sport needs not fewer bodily emissions, but more.
Here are young people who seem, for the most part, to be inhabiting a different universe from the rest of us. Some of them earn more in a week than lots of their most devoted fans earn in three years. And of course they are blessed with physical gifts that many of us only exhibit in our dreams. So what we need are reassuring reminders that, fundamentally, they are the same as us.
And what could be more fundamental than the fundament?
My favourite example of bodily functions on the field of play concerns an England fast bowler called Alf Gover who in a Test match 60-odd years ago started his run-up, realised in the middle of it that he was about to lose control of his bowels, so carried on running past the umpire, past the batsman, and into the pavilion.
The story goes that there was then a knock on the toilet door asking if he wouldn't mind returning the ball.
Cricket throws up, as it were, many such stories. I phoned my colleague Angus Fraser yesterday and, not inappropriately, all but wet myself laughing at some of his tales of things going badly wrong on the field, usually on the subcontinent where no player has turned the course of a match more often than Gastro Enteritis (born in India to Venezuelan parents, I suppose).
According to Fraser, in the early 1990s the entire England team rather unwisely went for a Chinese meal on the eve of a Test match in Madras, and there was more interest than usual the following day in fielding at long leg both ends. Meanwhile, at least two former England players, Philip De Freitas and Neil Smith, have suffered the indignity of vomiting just as they were about to bowl.
Fraser also reminded me of the predicament that befell Dean Jones, batting brilliantly for Australia in India despite being horribly dehydrated and suffering bladder-control problems. At 170-odd not out, Jones informed his captain, Allan Border, who was batting at the other end, that he had to leave the field.
In his usual indulgent, sympathetic manner, Border said something along the lines of: "Bugger off to the dunny, then, you Victorian poofter.
"We'll get a Queenslander out here to show you what a real Aussies made of!" Whereupon Jones decided to stay at the crease, duly reached his double-century, then spent the next two days on a drip.
At least cricketers are able to leave the field; in some sports it's trickier. I interviewed Damon Hill a few years ago and he told me that Formula One drivers, having drunk copious amounts of water to stave off dehydration, routinely let their bladders go during the course of a grand prix. I couldn't help wondering whether the convention of spraying champagne around the podium developed so that the damp patches could be blamed on Veuve Clicquot rather than anything warmer and saltier.
Anyway, I apologise for putting you off your breakfast with all this.
Unfortunately, it's hard to stop once you've started, which at any rate was the difficulty faced by the footballer DaMarcus Beasley, a substitute for the United States against Germany in the last World Cup.
Going through his warm-up routine at the side of the pitch, Beasley took a couple of furtive looks round then, inexplicably, took a long and plainly satisfying leak. Even if he knew the television cameras were on him, there was clearly no way of stopping the flow.
Beasley is now with PSV Eindhoven, on the brink of becoming the first American to play in a Champions' League semi-final, although the greater distinction, in my book, is weeing in the World Cup.Reuse content