Why game-show celebrations devalue our sportsmen

WHEN EDITING with distinction the sports section of a serious Sunday newspaper a friend in this unholy trade made it a hard-and-fast rule that acts of celebration were never to be pictured on his pages.

One reason for this laudable prejudice was to ensure that his photographers didn't take the easy option. Another, the most important, was a personal irritation with a trend arising from the rapid development of sport on television. Perhaps this fellow should have formed a Brotherhood, one with a single purpose, a sentimental one. One that would exist only to help keep decorum alive in sport, to preserve some meaning in the word in an age when sentimental labels are widely regarded as "square", or whatever from today's idiom has overtaken that description.

It seems that scarcely anybody today clings to the principle that sports performers can enjoy their triumphs without behaving in the demented manner of successful contestants on television game shows. We had, not so long ago, a prime example of this when the BBC put out gleefully a montage of theatrical celebrations. "And why not," the programme's suave presenter Desmond Lynam said.

The football authorities have since acted to curb obviously choreographed excesses but my immediate thought at the time of Lynam's foolish indulgence was that if the players spent as much time on improving technique they might find it easier to justify salaries which in many cases are out of proportion to ability.

One thing leads to another. Last week, during the school holidays, I stood with the youngest of my grandsons watching a pick-up game between boys of between eight and 10 years old, all kitted out in the colours of Premiership clubs. Only one or two revealed any natural gifts but they all knew how to celebrate.

You only have to ponder this for a moment to infer what it implies; an attitude to sport so influenced by television hyperbole, so distorted by the quest for ratings and circulation, that it has become almost impossible to sustain seemly standards of deportment.

All too often these days sports performers are made less by carnival acts of vulgarity. You see it when goals and tries are scored, when wickets fall, when decisions are announced in the ring. It is even creeping into golf.

People who go around saying that Tiger Woods is the most accomplished and exciting golfer presently at work in the game are right. Like anybody else, Woods relishes personal success and takes a pleasure in the tributes that past luminaries pay to him.

However, last week, and not for the first time, Woods offended the code on which golf was founded. When winning the Memorial at Muirfield Village in Ohio, going head to head with Vijay Singh in the final round, Wood's short game was something to behold, as fine an exhibition of saving shots as any of the commentators, including Jack Nicklaus, could remember. Trouble was that Woods could not contain himself after sinking a difficult downhill putt that prevented Singh from drawing level. If a vital blow, it didn't justify the triumphalism evident in pugnacious gestures.

Unfortunately, one of the burning questions today is whether sports fans are offended by such behaviour. Are they so conditioned to excess that the old traditions are no longer thought to be relevant?

Doubtless there are people who will argue that the importance of decorum in sport, if it has any importance at all, has been widely exaggerated. Some represent television and radio companies, others are responsible for bringing out sports pages. The philosophy they share is that comportment unbefitting to an athlete makes for livelier news.

Nothing, to my mind, illustrates the old ways better than video images of Sugar Ray Robinson, who is considered to be the most complete champion in boxing history. In victory or defeat - and he didn't lose many - Robinson simply raised one hand and bowed to the audience. God bless him, he didn't know any other way.

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