James Lawton: Sporting questions and silly answers

Mourinho gains only disgrace by deceit - Does Croft know cricket if he only cricket knows

Rarely since the notoriously rabid supporters of the New York Rangers ice hockey team had an extremely unnerving experience while riding the subway a few years ago has the pent-up fury of sport's distant cousins been so forcibly expressed.

Rarely since the notoriously rabid supporters of the New York Rangers ice hockey team had an extremely unnerving experience while riding the subway a few years ago has the pent-up fury of sport's distant cousins been so forcibly expressed.

The memory of that bizarre episode was provoked this week by the ferocious reaction of the British chess federation to the news that it may be barred from dipping into Sport England's somewhat arbitrary but quite often exceedingly generous gravy boat. If it proves so, it will be for the old reason: while the heirs of Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky may burn off vast amounts of nervous energy, they do it with insufficient "physical agility".

Not quite as much, for example, as the darts players hauling pints up to their jowls with relentless precision. Or snooker players nipping off for a drag, or worse. The latter possibility recalls a long lunch with Hurricane Higgins. Copious amounts of Chablis were followed by several large snifters of brandy. When he left at dusk he was asked where he was going. Plainly slighted wounded, he nonchalantly lit up a cigarette and said: "Practice of course."

What happened in New York is thus something of a warning for the bureaucrats doling out the largesse. The audience at the Metropolitan screamed, scuffled, and threw programmes, and some heavier objects, at the stage when it was announced that Luciano Pavarotti had been adversely affected by the Manhattan fumes and would not be doing his stuff.

Such alarm was created that the following day a spokesman for the New York Rangers, noting a sharp drop in attendance for a punch-up with the Pittsburgh Penguins, theorised bleakly: "It maybe that our fans are staying home for fear of tangling with the opera crowd."

Coming on a slightly different tack, A J Liebling, author of The Sweet Science, marshalled a brave defence of his beloved sport of boxing while wading into the great cultural divide.

He said that anti-boxing forces tried to rationalise their position by proclaiming solicitude for the fighter's health, and then counter attacking with a thumping rhetorical question. He asked what the reaction would be if a boxer ever went as "batty" as the celebrated dancer Nijinsky? Liebling provided his own bracing answer. "All the wowsers in the world would be screaming 'punch-drunk.' Well, who hit Nijinsky? And why isn't there a campaign against ballet? It gives girls thick legs."

Liebling, like the chess body now, was wading into the eternal question of what truly constitutes sport, at what point do you draw the line between the body and the mind?

Of course it has long been blurred. When you go to the gymnastics hall, as some of us did relentlessly to see the sublime Svetlana Khorkina at the Olympics of Sydney and Athens, do you go as an aficionado of the beam and the bars or an impassioned stage-door Johnny?

If a batch of beautifully synchronised swimmers stick clothes pegs on their noses and come out of the water without a millisecond between them are they Olympians - or refugees from an old Esther Williams movie? Is ice dancing, so beautifully expressed by Torvill and Dean, sport or entertainment or, too frequently, a fix?

Once the late James "The Shunt" Hunt brooded restlessly about the dangers of Formula One. He confided: "Sometimes I wish I had been a golfer. What a lovely, risk-free life."

But was Hunt talking about a swap from one nominal "sport" to another? For me, no. Formula One demands nerve and stamina and unworldly reflexes. Winning a major demands wonderful natural co-ordination and feel for the subtleties of timing and imagination.

In one sultry week former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis had two contests. In one he ravaged the myth of Mike Tyson. In the other he was slaughtered by the 14-year-old chess champion of Mississippi. He seemed to be much more drained by the defeat.

Lewis's trainer, Emmanuel Steward, who looks after fighters in that part of Detroit where they tend not to pin up posters of grandmasters, hated the hours the champion spent over a chessboard. "Fighting and chess, hell, you couldn't find two more opposite things," said Steward. "In the ring it's explosion and instinct. In chess you have to think through everything you do. I worry that Lennox will take off some of his edge."

Thinking things through, however, never seemed to hold back Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, or, come to think about it, Lewis.

According to one study, the epic duel between Fischer and Spassky produced in both contestants the heart-lung and blood pressure rates of competing boxers and footballers. This is an impressive detail in a debate that can never be satisfactorily resolved anywhere except in the mind of a pedant.

For what it's worth, the opinion here is that the ultimate examinations of sportsmen come in the mountains of the Tour de France and the square ring. How do you split these rival demands? Perhaps only in the reality that on the Tour no one is trying to separate your head from your shoulders.

But if the debate can never be truly settled, a brilliant compromise has already been been adopted by the Germans and enthusiastically advocated by the British grandmaster Jonathan Speelman. It is to have a separate category of "mind-sport". Here at least is one true gathering of the competitive instinct. Certainly it is hard to think of a great sportsman who didn't have a mind as strong as tungsten.

Mourinho gains only disgrace by deceit

There is something of a consensus that Jose Mourinho has scored a victory over the feeble justice of Uefa.

If this is so it has to be one unprecedented in the often murky history of English football. No one ever before had his reputation enhanced by being exposed as a liar and a trickster, someone so intent on winning that he didn't care who was taken down, and however dishonestly.

From time to time Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger draw strong and legitimate criticism for their one-eyed view of the game they dominated here for so long. Ferguson has been bullying and ruthless, Wenger has seen more or less everything from his own point of view. But neither, you have to believe, has the instinct or the capability to commit the outrage of Mourinho when he falsely declared he had seen the Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard enter the dressing room of the Swedish referee Anders Frisk.

For all of Mourinho's coaching brilliance, he damned himself when he did that. He can have the Premiership and a half-dozen more Champions' Leagues, but he will never fill the hollow centre of his success.

Some are inclined to salute the smart-guy winner. They, too, can ultimately only be pitied.

Does Croft know cricket if he only cricket knows

While the fiasco of a Test match proceeded in Georgetown, Guyana, the former West Indian pace star turned broadcaster Colin Croft told Radio Five that it was quite understandable that half the home team, including the captain Brian Lara, were missing from the action.

He explained that they were caught in a serious dispute between two rival sponsors and telephone companies. In his superb book "Beyond A Boundary" Trinidad's C L R James wrote about the meaning of cricket in the islands. He said how it had shaped his people's character, given them pride and dignity, adding, "The British tradition soaked into me was that when you entered the sporting arena you left behind you the sordid compromises of everyday. Yet for us to do that we would have to divest ourselves of our skins." Or their sponsors.

James, dubbed the "Black Plato" by The Times, also asked, "What does he know of cricket who only cricket knows?" Croft, for all the destruction he wrought on the field, did not provide an encouraging answer.

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Representative

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To promote and sell the Company...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Civil Engineering

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Business: This company is going thro...

Tradewind Recruitment: KS1 & KS2 Teachers Required

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind Recruitment are currently working...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea