Rugby Union: Anything goes now that dignity has become redundant

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The Independent Online
WHILE IT is fervently hoped that one of rugby's best traditions will be preserved in the World Cup it will not come as a shock if crucial successes in play spark acts of unseemly comportment.

The decline from sport as an enjoyable end in itself to a spectacle designed to satisfy the hopes and lusts of the audience goes back further than living memory but nobody could have imagined a time when decorum on the fields of play would come to mean so little.

If it takes considerable character not to be affected by the hyperbolic content of reporting in popular prints and across the airwaves, there is no earthly excuse for some of today's behaviour.

Events in last week's Ryder Cup, specifically the offensive triumphalism of America's golfers when fighting back to overhaul Europe in the singles, once again indicated that not even golf today can lay claim to a decent ethic.

In a sport whose practitioners are thought to exude honour and breeding from every pore it caused a great deal of commotion when Ben Crenshaw's team acted in a manner unbecoming to their status.

To suggest that their conduct was entirely the result of jingoistic tub- thumping and a creed based entirely on the importance of victory ignores the irrefutable fact that golf as represented by its professionals has slipped a long way from the concept of a gentleman's game played in a beguiling atmosphere.

Going back only eight years Ian Woosnam was mildly rebuked by Peter Allis on television for letting his excitement show when sinking a putt to the win the Masters. We have moved on a bit since then. From being held in check by tradition, triumphalism has become a disturbing feature of modern golf and sadly brings down no admonishment from the authorities who are no less in the grip of commercialism than the players themselves. It seems that anything goes in sport now that dignity has become redundant.

Not so long ago it was pathetic to hear Desmond Lynam say on BBC television - an organisation built on noble standards of reporting and comment - that he could find no fault with the choreographed nonsense of football celebrations.

The unfettered exuberance of cricketers when a wicket is taken and the widespread belief that "sledging" is a legitimate tactic offends past heroes of the game and its history. In time, people may get around to realising how many mistakes have been made, how foolish it was to fall completely into the hands of sponsors and television.

I suppose, with long practice it is possible to forget the standards of behaviour that prevailed before evangelists, in the seamy cause of sports promotion, began to argue that presentation matters as much as substance. From that philosophy sprang the phenomenon of Naseem Hamed's popularity; not so much a response to the flaunting of exceptional reflexes, the daring in a flawed style as the extravagance of his progress to the ring.

Within reach is a video of Sugar Ray Robinson's monumental career. When becoming the undisputed welterweight and middleweight champion and, by common consent, the greatest fighter pound-for-pound in history, Robinson never once leaped on the ropes or scaled the shoulders of his handlers. In victory or defeat (he had 201 professional contests and 12 of only 19 defeats came after he had turned 40) Robinson merely raised one hand and bowed to the audience.

A clue to the future of sport - and a sad future it could be - lies, I believe, in the growing and perhaps irreversible conviction that nothing can be gained from attempting to restore values that were once held sacrosanct. The trouble is one of sport's own making, its posturing and greed and the refusal of people who should know better than to go along with the silly notion that international failure in sport amounts to a national disaster.

There is no simple antidote to what we saw and heard in the Ryder Cup, not the vetting of spectators at future events, not a ban on the sale of booze. What we saw was symptomatic of our times, base instincts whipped up by the ludicrous idea that success in sport defines a nation. As somebody once said, it all goes to show what an idle rumour can do.