Sports Letter: Honour, defeat and our malaise

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Sir: An American friend of mine rang me to make a point that he has made many times in the past decade. As long as we, the British, continue to welcome home beaten teams as though there was something honourable and even creditable in defeat, then we are never going to be a nation of sporting winners.

Over the past three months the English cricket team has performed feebly. They have shown a total lack of the ability to be tough and be real winners. After we had lost the Ashes I rang my friend in New York and predicted that we would win the next Test. Sure enough, when nothing was at stake, we won. When are we going to understand that winning a Test match once the Ashes have been lost is close to no achievement at all?

Do we really believe that if the Ashes had been up for grabs the Australians would have lost in Melbourne? There were three headlines in The Independent regarding our latest apathetic efforts in Sydney, and the series as a whole. "Stewart's men earn respect for a courageous performance"; 188 all out - a courageous performance? "Honour has been salvaged." How? Where? When? There is no honour in defeat. "England captain has emerged with credit for rediscovered fighting spirit." Just because a couple of our bowlers actually managed to live up to, or maybe even slightly surpass, their potential does not excuse the rest of the team for four matches of under-achievement and a total lack of spirit.

Delusion is a malaise that we, as a sporting nation, have suffered from for too long. In football we went out with great honour at Italia 90, were robbed at Euro 96 and to add insult to previous failure, Glenn Hoddle tells us that if David Beckham hadn't been sent off we would have gone on to win the World Cup. How do we react to this? We renew his contract. In America, he would not have had time to board the plane home before being sacked, and rightly so.

It is time to wake up: defeat is defeat. Whether it is by one run, one goal, one wicket or a penalty, it is still defeat and defeat is failure. Ninety per cent of our touring cricket team should hang their heads in shame for their lack of guts, but we let them off the hook by covering them in "honour", "courage" and "fighting spirit".

Surely it is time that we recognised this embarrassing British trait and did away with it. We want to be winners and we want to welcome our sportsmen back with praise and honour, but they have to actually deserve such accolades.