The Last Word: Racist fans and bitter spats as love is floored
British bigots taunt Amir, boo boys target DeGale and Cesc is spitting mad – why is hate all around us?
Sunday 22 March 2009
Hate is a four-letter word tattooed across the knuckles of some of the lowlife who espouse it. On the other hand, there's love. Not that there's much of it lost in sport these days. The latest spat – or should that be spit? – involving the Arsenal captain, Cesc Fabregas, and Hull's assistant manager, Brian Horton, in the tunnel at the Emirates and the unseemly aftermath is indicative of the nastiness smothering the spirit of the game on and off the field.
Abuse of authority, the opposition and selected sporting idols is now, quite literally, all the rage. Disturbingly, there is evidence that the escalating number of venomous scenarios scarring the face of football is permeating other areas of sport.
Amir Khan, who is one of the most decent young sportsmen in the land, was initially booed as he made his way to the ring at Manchester's MEN Arena last Saturday night; his opponent, Marco Antonio Barrera, received a much warmer welcome. Astonishingly, there were even a few more boos as Khan left after his pulsating victory. "What depresses me," said the former world champion Barry McGuigan, "is the number of people who wanted to see Amir lose."
Why? There is a suggestion that it was an anti-Islamic reaction to the recent demonstrations in London on the return of British troops from Iraq. Yet there is no one in sport who has done more for Anglo-Muslim relations than Khan, whose father famously wore a Union Jack waistcoat during the Athens Olympics.
More likely it is that British trait of relishing the toppling of home-grown heroes from their pedestal. After Khan was knocked out in September, he confided he was hurt more by some of the gloating than by the punches of Breidis Prescott. "There was a lot of hate around," he said.
"When I hear them booing a nice lad like Amir, I think the world's gone mad," said his fellow Olympian James DeGale, MBE, himself subjected to the boo-boys when introduced in Manchester, just as he was when he made his pro debut in Birmingham.
His mother, Diane, who is white, said: "I'm beginning to wonder if it is because of his colour." Hopefully not, though DeGale himself suggests there was an element of racism that had nothing to do with his skin. "There was an Irish contingent who were getting at me because I beat their man Darren Sutherland in Beijing."
He admits that some of the crowd might have been less than captivated by his performance, but this does not explain why he was subjected to such a chorus of disapproval by a Manchester crowd determined to say boo to boxing's golden goose. "I'm bamboozled by it," he said. "I know I come across as cocky and flash, but in this game you've got to have confidence in yourself. And I won a gold medal for Britain, for God's sake, so why this animosity? Is it jealousy because we've made a bit of money or what?"
Yes, according to McGuigan, and in the view of one leading figure whose life has been dedicated to helping reform some of society's young misfits, it is a situation destined to get worse because of the economic crisis. Geoff Thompson, the former world karate champion who runs the Manchester-based Youth Charter, believes the recession is a contributory factor. "I see it on the streets," he said. "People, particularly young people, are angry, and sport is a convenient vehicle for their abuse."
So how long will it be in this age of diss and spat before they hiss Rebecca Adlington or Sir Chris Hoy should they falter on their way to 2012? Or barrack Obama? We hate to think.
Salmond gets gold medal for Olympic sniffiness
What is it with Scotland's First Minister and 2012? It's not just that he doesn't want to play ball over supplying players for a Great Britain football team; he also gives the impression that Scotland would rather the Games were not taking place in London at all.
You sense the face of that Caledonian curmudgeon Alex Salmond would break into a rare smile if the economic crisis forced his fellow Scot Gordon Brown to pick up the phone and ask President Sarkozy of France: "Hey Nick, got much on in Paris in 2012?"
That won't happen, of course. Neither will Salmond's campaign to get Scotland accepted as a separate nation in future Games. "For me this Olympics mess is another good reason for independence," he says.
Blatantly playing politics with the Olympics will get right up the noses of the International Olympic Committee, just as prohibiting Scottish footballers from representing Britain in 2012 already has Fifa's. It could prove a massive own goal.
Salmond should bagpipe down and accept that the Games, and GB United, will go ahead as planned in London with or without Scotland's assistance. And he has no need to look beyond his border for confirmation of what Olympism is all about.
The Glaswegian Sir Craig Reedie, whose influence on the IOC, perhaps gallingly for Salmond, was instrumental in getting the Games for London, and Sir Chris Hoy, whose three gold medals in Beijing brought honour not only to Great Britain but to Scotland too, would be happy to remind him.
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