In the global village the elders speak wisdom unto our sporting prodigies
Thursday 07 July 2005
A keen tennis fan, what he specifically had in mind was the attention being paid to Andrew Murray, the 18-year old Scot who this week won his first match since making a big impression at Wimbledon, progressing to the second round of the Campbell's Hall of Fame Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. It seemed to my friend that there is a tendency in this country more than any other to overexpose young players in newspapers and across the airwaves before they have acquired the maturity to deal with fame.
This was partly the subject of an intelligent appraisal of Murray's potential given by Jimmy Connors during a break in proceedings at Wimbledon. Connors, who together with two other former champions, John McEnroe and Boris Becker, brings the gifts of enlightenment and humour to the pundit's chair, spoke about his own progress in the game. In common with Murray, whose mother has been prominent in his progression through junior events, Connors was pushed hard by the woman who bore him.
Remarking on this, Connors made the point that nobody quite knows what is going on in a young athlete's head. "One danger is that you may be asking more than the pupil wants to give," he said. "If that is the case some pretty damned serious questions may crop up." Not merely the vicarious thrill enjoyed by parents but unquestionably in some cases the loot. "The player may reach the point where dedication becomes a chore," Connors added.
Going back more years than I can bother to add up, a colleague in this trade devoted all his spare time to a daughter who was showing outstanding potential on the junior tennis circuit. Whenever she played, forgoing holidays, her parents were in attendance. At the age of 18, she announced that she did not want to play any more.
What got me off on this was the excellence of Connors' contribution to the BBC's coverage of Wimbledon, indeed the generally high standard of punditry that has been at our disposal recently. McEnroe, who was once taken apart by Red Smith, late of this life and The New York Times, for proving just how ugly an American can be, has become a class act on television. In a language not his own, Becker is cuttingly informative.
Something similar can be said of Sky's coverage of the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand. Their leading player is Stuart Barnes, whose ability to think two moves ahead, to see what the majority of us fail to see is reminiscent of his time as an England fly-half who sought no favours from the management of his day. Above all, Barnes has the guts to speak his mind.
I am not alone in believing that Sir Clive Woodward has been given an easy ride by many critics following the disaster of the first Test and the dismantling of the team for the second when the Lions were completely outplayed. No England football manager would have survived the monumental errors of judgement in selection and tactics committed by Woodward, including the ludicrous appointment of Alastair Campbell as the squad's PR director. Barnes has tackled this and every issue in a forthright fashion, setting standards of punditry that football would do well to emulate.
The medium, said Marshall McLuhan, is the message. And sometimes the message that filters through the medium of television is too clear. When the England national football team is involved, television coverage becomes a carnival of jingoistic utterance that is sure to be repeated if England, as expected, make their way to next year's World Cup finals in Germany.
Nobody calls a boxing contest with more clarity than the former lightweight champion Jim Watt. When Watt first went behind a mike he was taken aside by his former manager Terry Lawless. "Forget people's feelings," Lawless said. "Go with your knowledge and instinct. Tell it as it is." Sound advice in any broadcaster's book.
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