The Last Word: Will Oscar Pistorius mark passing of the sporting role model?

Athletes were turned into lifestyle choices but those corporate-made myths have been exploded

Welcome to Year Zero. It is prudent to believe in nothing and trust no one. Sporting icons in whom so much has been invested, emotionally and materially, appear to be as reliable as a ready meal which purports to be beef but contains traces of an also-ran from a novice hurdle.

The State v Oscar Leonard Pistorius is not parable or fable. It is reality and humanity stripped bare. It is trite to talk of the death of innocence when a victim lies in a mortuary, but the tragedy unfolding in South Africa threatens to be a game changer.

Pistorius and his management company wishes the world to know the murder charges will be "disputed in the strongest terms". The message will be amplified by the British public-relations expert who, with crushing inevitability, was the first to fly to his aid.

Stuart Higgins, the former editor of The Sun, is extremely good at his job, which will assume quasi-judicial status as the trial progresses. He oversaw the publicity campaign for the London Olympics, when Pistorius was a perpetual photo opportunity and an interview waiting to happen.

People in his line of work ask us to accept the authenticity of the gladiatorial fantasy. Their instinct is to canonise, rather than merely celebrate, achievement. Facts are managed and massaged, but facts are unavoidable. Athletes are marketed as the modern equivalent of priests and generals. Campaigns reflect a yearning for a restatement of former certainties, when centre forwards and opening batsmen, inside centres and middle-distance yeomen were blessed, golden, and unimpeachable.

Yet the notion of sport producing role models now has little currency beyond the corporate fiction factories. Tiger Woods has mutated in public consciousness from Zen master golfer to serial adulterer. Lance Armstrong has morphed from cancer's Che Guevara to cheat and hypocrite. Pistorius was once a source of wonder.

Nike, the company which turned athletes into lifestyle choices, created many of those myths. They condensed character into bite-sized chunks of commercialism. Promotional videos were sassy, provocative and achingly cool. Too clever for their own good, as it turned out.

A sombre, penitent Woods was addressed by his father from beyond the grave. "I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are," a disembodied Earl Woods intoned. "And did you learn anything?"

Armstrong was shown taking a blood test with an archly ironic voiceover: "This is my body and I can do whatever I want to it. I can push it, and study it, tweak it, listen to it. Everyone wants to know what I'm on. What am I on? I'm on my bike, busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?"

The audience were invited to forgive or forget. But the Pistorius case appears to be so grotesque, such an apparently harrowing insight into the human condition, that Nike slogans like "I am the bullet in the chamber" are simply revolting.

Beware, this pulpit has woodworm. We in the media must take our share of the blame for the hallucinogenic nature of fame. Some of us accede too readily to the "reputational management" industry, which is paranoid about the perpetuation of the brand. Anyone seeking insight from an athlete of global stature is ushered into a parallel universe.

Interviews, monitored by PR types with a mania to remain on message, last little longer than the time it takes to boil an egg. This is counter-productive, especially with Premier League footballers, who would undermine some of the one-dimensional stereotypes if only they were allowed to speak for themselves.

It may be too late. The audience, I fear, is about to stop listening.

Fifa and Uefa rule! But not for long

Another fudge. Another opportunity wasted. Another cause compromised. The curse of Michel Platini strikes again.

It was too much to hope that his gesture, in insisting Uefa revisit racist incidents at England's Under‑21 tie in Serbia, would signal a change in mood and purpose.

It generated a classic bureaucratic compromise. Serbia's paltry fine of £65,000 remained unchanged, but they were ordered to stage an additional Under-21 match behind closed doors.

Steven Caulker's two-match suspension was replaced by a solitary day's community service, whatever that means, but Tom Ince's one-game ban was upheld.

All neat, balanced and meaningless. Nothing of any note achieved, but lip service paid to lofty aims.

Platini was otherwise engaged at a Fifa meeting, in which Sepp Blatter promised "concrete actions, as well as strong sanctions, which will really have an impact".

But their world of privilege and posturing is changing fast. The authority of slow-witted, out-dated organisations like Fifa and Uefa is being eroded. Power is shifting to the clubs, who have the money and political influence to dispense with sanctioning bodies.

Change will be accelerated once the extent of match-fixing becomes apparent. If investigations reveal complicity, it is game over.

Turning point?

This is Football v Homophobia month. The greatest gesture, the most important statement, has already been made. Respect to Robbie Rogers, whose candour in coming out as gay on Friday will be rewarded if an athlete's sexuality is never again an issue.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test