The tragedy of Dunblane brought about finally the realisation that sport does not matter much in the wider scheme of things

If, as it appears, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales has caused people to reflect on the comparative unimportance of sport, a good question is why did this not occur to them at the time of Dunblane and other horrors.

In the enormous reverberation of last weekend's tragic event, it should not be forgotten that other awful opportunities to put sport into proper perspective have either been ignored or soon forgotten.

As I recall it now, there was no suggestion that British sporting activities should be respectfully suspended following the Dunblane murders or when a mountain of coal waste came down to take the lives of more than a hundred children in the Welsh village of Aberfan.

Both events made me weep but the more recent tragedy of Dunblane - and I guess the passing of time has something to do with this - brought about finally the realisation that sport does not matter very much in the wider scheme of things. The terrible news from Dunblane reached me in Las Vegas shortly before a contest for the world heavyweight championship. Given half a chance, I would have abandoned an assignment that no longer had my full attention.

Something similar came to mind when it was decided to continue with the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico only eight months after an earthquake devastated large sections of Mexico City, claiming more than 30,000 victims. Back from assessing the damage to installations, a BBC producer, now retired, told of bodies being torn from the wreckage so that work could begin on the restoration of a television complex. "It made me sick," he said. "To stage the World Cup there is utterly immoral."

There have been many occasions over the years, increasingly so these days, when I have grown irritated and fed up with sport, even though it is a bit presumptuous to be irritated with issues that do not seem to bother many people.

The best advice I was given as a starter in this trade was to take the job seriously - but not myself. I have tried to abide by this, if not always to the satisfaction of previous employers.

Sometimes, this led to quite nasty verbal encounters. Once, in an aggressive tone, and immediately after the match, I was asked to explain how England's football team had managed to lose in Switzerland. The question, in essence stereotypical, was: "How did they manage to lose against a bunch of waiters and clockmakers?"

"You tell me," I replied.

"No, you tell me," came the answer. "You are supposed to be the expert."

A Canadian with whom I was once associated used to say that "ex" is something in the past and "spurt" is a spray that never made it, but that is another story.

What I'm going on about here is something that Hugh McIlvanney summed up perfectly when he described sport as a "magnificent irrelevance". Unfortunately, that truth is all too often ignored in the language of commentary and reporting. Apart from calamities that result in death or serious disability, nothing in sport should be referred to as tragic.

Gareth Southgate's appearance in a television commercial based on his crucial penalty miss in the semi- finals of Euro 96 was objected to by a sports columnist on the grounds that he was capitalising on a national tragedy. This was quite ridiculous.

Success in sport can lift countries and communities but care should be taken to ensure that it is not invested with too much importance. This is made no easier by the studious manner in which some self- anointed people continue to regard sport as evidence of retarded development.

I have never come across a defeat in sport that has justified more than fleeting anguish. In the context of life itself it ought not to matter over much to a spectator, whatever the depth of his or her affiliations.

It did not take the death of Diana, Princess of Wales to remind me that there is a limit to sport's relevance. If I did not know it before, I knew it when more than 40 protesting students were murdered in Mexico City shortly before soaring doves of peace were released there to announce the 1968 Olympic Games.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice