Tragedies to touch each of us
Thursday 05 May 1994
They are beyond comprehension, shocking even people whose attention is seldom diverted by the passing parade, who never take a ringside seat at the circus. That the ultimate price should be paid in sport emphasises the larcenous nature of death.
Even for those who achieve the pinnacles of sporting achievement, acclaim is always likely to have a hollow ring, the slow torture of nostalgia accompanying an acute realisation of anti- climax. But a morbid sense of mortality before the gift has been eroded by time, before careers are cast into memory, is something else.
To receive in succession news of the tragedies that unfolded in Europe last week was to be reminded once more of the peril that exists in sport, especially for those who perform close to the edge. Theirs is an extortion of courage and will beyond any of our measure.
Sure we understand the risks taken in the boxing ring, at the wheel of a racing car and astride a jumping horse, but they are obscured by cumulative thrill and the dross of hyperbole. They sink beneath the level of consciousness by way of familiarity or deliberate suppression. The majority of fans, however many decades have been invested in their obsession, remain oblivious even to the probability of anguish and pain.
And many performers, seduced by ambition and ego, do, in the words of Dylan Thomas, learn too late that they caught the sun in flight and winged it on its way.
Recently, on radio, I heard the former Tottenham Hotspur and England centre-forward, Bobby Smith, tell of privately and secretly receiving injections to numb the pain of an injury that threatened his appearance in the 1961 FA Cup final against Leicester City. Today, he is on crutches, riddled with arthritis.
A British boxer of some renown, a former title contender, recalls being persuaded to enter the ring with a left hand made useless by an injury in training.
Affirming that he would have fought on had the injury occurred in the first round, he was told to think it was already over.
Impressions of sport do not accommodate such things. Above all they do not accommodate death and permanent disablement. Thus the terrible events that took Bradley Stone, Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, and left Declan Murphy clinging to life, are repugnant to the human condition.
Because of transcending prominence, a gift so sublime that it required no understanding, Senna's death reached out to all, uniquely shocking. Before us was the metaphor stripped down to its bare, chilling essentials, the ultimate emblem for all that can happen in sport.
Senna's career had an epic quality and there was betrayal in the 12 years that had separated motor racing from tragic visitation. Immediately, there was a suspension of belief.
I knew none of these people: that is to say I had never engaged them in private conversation. And yet I knew them well. In their awful fate I saw the fate of others.
Those of us who have grown up in and around sport must always guard against the temptation to indulge in an overkill of sentimentality. What are the perils of sport when set against the horror of widespread human suffering, the grim images that rise up from Bosnia and Rwanda?
Sport is a thing of choice, not of imperative, a world unto itself, replete with pettiness and trivial distortion. A fantasy world of popular idols, status symbols, and yet offering vicarious release from an oppressively rationalised society.
But that people are prepared to run terrible risks in it provides a real and vital understanding of the human spirit.
Latest in Sport
Arsenal transfer news: Arsene Wenger 'optimistic' of making signing, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Edinson Cavani linked
Manchester United have two days to seal the transfer of the summer, Arsenal need to panic, Jose Mourinho right to blast Chelsea reluctance
Celtic supporters mock Fenerbahce fans' threatening 'knife' pictures with their own versions - featuring spoons and bananas
Swansea 2 Manchester United 1 player ratings: Was Andre Ayew the Swans' star man or did Bafetimbi Gomis steal the show?
Anthony Martial to Manchester United: United 'open talks' with £36m Monaco striker as Javier Hernandez joins Bayer Leverkusen
- 1 VMAs 2015: Was Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus' awkward acceptance put-down real or staged?
- 2 If you're not already angry about the migrant crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 3 Rules on 5p plastic bags likely to lead to arguments at the check-out
- 4 Chaos breaks out in courtroom as father attacks killer of three-year-old daughter
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms
£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award-winning company, whi...
£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique & exciting opp...
£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...
£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...