True suffering in the discomfort zone

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The Independent Online
ALL THIS talk of a comfort zone in golf is making a large number of golfers feel very uncomfortable at Wentworth this weekend. It is bad enough that a chap will slink away after finishing 48th without his being accused of being cosily content just because he has a nice cheque in his pocket to reward his miserably average efforts.

He might not have caused the leaders the slightest fright but that doesn't mean he didn't suffer deep pangs of disappointment as his chances ebbed slowly from him and at the very least he embroidered a few stitches into the tapestry of one of our sporting events. It doesn't make him worthy of the derision that he is one of many condemned to avoid the pressures of life atop the leaderboard.

Why pick on golf? There are many footballers who slip into the leather seats of a posh saloon to drive home after a defeat, comforted by the prospect that there'll be steak and chips for tea and that finishing in mid-table won't unduly take the lushness out of this existence.

In every sport there is an area of accomplishment which is a sheltered haven between the nervous jangle of glory-seekers up front and the undignified scramble for crumbs among those far behind. But it is hard to accuse its inhabitants of being there out of choice. Some have to settle for what they can get.

As it is in sport so it is in life. Day-to-day activity in factories and offices is much like a golf tournament. The scoring system might be a little difficult to follow but the results are graded in a similar manner and in those places, too, there is what some may call a comfort zone which is filled with those whose appetite for advancement has been ground out of them or wasn't there in the first place. Not everyone can be a foreman or a manager and those who don't climb the ladder to leadership are not necessarily at peace with their role, however much they may learn to live with it.

Someone has to fill the minor places. Life depends on a ready supply of losers and where would sport be without them? Losers are almost as important as winners in the dramas of sport. Everton's success in the FA Cup final was all the sweeter because Manchester United were their victims. The triumph of Ajax in the European Cup was more welcome because the approach of Milan did not deserve the success they were prepared to achieve even if they had to drag us into extra-time and penalties.

Losses for these teams are rare, but even habitual losers in football have their part to play. There is no better example than England, mother of the game. English defeats by foreign teams have been cheering and encouraging the world for decades. Even though most developed countries have at least one victory over England to their credit, it is still a proud moment when they add another. No doubt England will continue to bless the world in this respect and blissful will be the team who come here to win the European Championship next year - just because it is England.

It is the same with our rugby and cricket teams; the games are far stronger world-wide because of our ability to lose and to lose with style. If we, the nation that produced these games, had remained the dominant power we'd probably be playing on our own by now. Losing is part of the game and if you despise losers you despise the game.

Unless, as I suspect, the leading golfers want tournaments played between the top 30 of them alone - what a comfort zone that would be - they have to accept that losers are an inevitable product of their sport. And with only one winner a week out of a field of about 140, they are going to be plentiful.

So I suggest they leave golf's under-achievers alone. Being a professional loser may not be an honourable calling, but it's a living.

NO ONE wants to revive the fuss about old farts, especially now that they're all being chummy in South Africa, but the point made here two Sundays ago, that if Will Carling played in a sport with a lower profile he would still be an ex-captain has brought cries for help from people stranded in disputes with governing bodies.

Public outcry forced the Rugby Football Union to backtrack on Carling but few who suffer harsh treatment from sport's leaders can call upon such support. What is necessary is an independent authority to which the excesses of this sporting power could be referred. Otherwise, the only recourse is the courts and we have seen from the three exiled Welsh clubs fighting the Welsh FA for the right to play in their own country what a long and expensive process that can be.

I had a call last week from a woman who said that unbiased arbitration might have saved her from years of a very costly and frustrating battle against a governing body in one of the martial arts which concerns the issuing of National Vocational Qualifications for sports coaching.

For nearly three years she and a few others who are also experts in this sport have waited in vain for an official interpretation of the standards required so that they can help students obtain NVQs. Frustrated at the delay, they've written their own standards which have been informally approved but rejected by the governing body who are insisting on writing their own - and they won't do that until the National Coaching Foundation, a quango grant-aided by the Sports Council, provide some guidelines that are acceptable to the national body who approve NVQs. So far, their efforts to do so have been much less than satisfactory in this and other sports.

Despite seeking legal advice, consulting her MP and continually pleading for progress, my caller has met not only a brick wall but has suffered considerably in business - she wants to train people to obtain NVQs - and enthusiasm. "If only we had an independent body to appeal to," she says. "The introduction of NVQs in 1992 was an excellent initiative to educate coaches to agreed national standards but it has been allowed to stagnate in sport because our so-called leaders are a law unto themselves."

I was intending to use her name and her circumstances but on Friday one of her friends telephoned me to say that if I did the governing body concerned would make her life even more intolerable than it is at the moment. The old farts affair had a funny side; this one doesn't - and there are probably many more like it.

PAUL GASCOIGNE's decision to sign for Rangers - once an army of tax experts have sorted out the immense complications of his piggy bank - has brought a rash of puzzlement from observers about why he should forsake the pulsating heart of the English game for this northern wasteland.

Apart from the fact that Rangers are probably the biggest club in British football, Gazza has obviously seen some aspect of Ibrox life that appeals to him.

Perhaps, after his experiences in Italy, he feels he has less chance of being misunderstood in a stadium where at every match 1,200 spectators pay pounds 200 for the privilege of a champagne reception, a five-course meal with wine and liqueurs, executive box seats, unlimited half-time refreshment and as much as they can consume for an hour after the match.

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