Sportswise, I'm not moving any particular way

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The Independent Online
DOES GOD really exist? I only ask because the question was put to me this week and I could not say for certain. I was standing on my doorstep at the time, trying not to let the cats out.

Perhaps if I had not been so worried about the cats, who are, after all, independent creatures - maybe even God's creatures - and if I had not also been aware of the fact that unless I left the house within the next two minutes I would definitely be late for picking up the children from school, and would thus, definitely, be forced to run a gauntlet of sarcasm (eldest), hard stares (middle) and animated abuse (youngest) ... as I say, if these circumstances had not been as they were, perhaps I would have been able to form a coherent response to what is, after all, a pretty important question.

But perhaps not. Because the truth is, as I realised following my friendly interrogation by the local Jehovah's Witnesses, that I don't have a view - that is, not one that I could commit to paper.

To employ the image Glenn Hoddle used this week in the TV documentary about his faith, my car is not in gear. Faithwise, I am not moving in any particular direction.

The problem is, I find any number of other questions which cause me similar uncertainty, even within the realm in which I work.

Occasionally I am asked to talk about sports journalism to school groups, and certain queries come up on a regular basis.

Will England ever win the European Championship/World Cup? Pass.

Is Greg Rusedski really British? Pass.

How many British athletes are on drugs? To which the simple answer is: some probably are, most almost certainly aren't. I have my suspicions, like everyone else. No, as it happens I do not suspect Linford Christie. Those I do suspect, the laws of libel prevent me from naming. The only thing you can safely say is that you have to presume people are innocent until proved guilty. Then you have to be prepared for those found guilty to prove they were innocent after all. And that's the simple version.

Are footballers paid too much money? Compared to nurses. Immoral, of course. But entertainers. If demand is there. Can't be blamed. Would you turn it down? In short - I don't know. If Premiership clubs make so much money through marketing, why do they continue to increase their ticket prices? Actually, that one is easy to answer. Greed. But hold on. Here comes another problematic request ...

Will Tim Henman ever win Wimbledon? No. That is, probably not. But you can't completely rule it out. We'll have to wait and see how his serve holds up under pressure... I don't know.

By this time, the internal questions are forming themselves. "Can't you say anything? Now that you are asked to explain what it is you do, and what you believe, is there nothing sure and substantial you can present to these young people?" Like life, sport is full of uncertainty, absurdity, greed, corruption. But if warfare really is ritualised within it, who would argue against the broader benefit? And sometimes, sport is even better than that.

Next time I talk, I will mention what happened at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, an event at which the Nazi hosts hoped to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race.

Nazi propaganda had taunted the United States' reliance on what it described as "black auxiliaries". Jesse Owens was just such an "auxiliary" - the son of Alabama sharecroppers and grandson of slaves. And also the man who, a year earlier, had broken five worlds records in sprints and long jump within the space of 45 minutes.

Throughout the Games, German spectators - clearly ignorant of his lowly status - sought Owens's autograph, even thrusting their books through his window in the Olympic Village while he tried to sleep. The long jump saw him in competition with home favourite Luz Long - tall, blue-eyed and blond, the very model of Aryan superiority. When Owens, still clad in his tracksuit, took a practice jump, officials counted it as his first qualifying attempt. Discomfited, he fouled in his second attempt. Only one chance remained for him to progress to the final - at which point Long wandered up and introduced himself, adding: "You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed." Long suggested that, as the qualifying distance was well within Owens's capacity, the American should make a mark several inches before the take-off board to play safe. Owens did so, qualifying easily and going on to beat Long to the gold medal later that afternoon.

Hitler may not have shaken Jesse Owens's hand that day - but Luz Long did. I believe in that.

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