Brian Viner: Gold is more precious than any gong

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

Should young Becky Adlington, our splendid double gold medallist swimmer, be given a damehood in the next honours list? The very question is absurd, let alone the answers it elicited in a debate on Five Live the other morning. Unfortunately, Kelly Holmes had earlier dared to suggest that Adlington was perhaps a little on the youthful side, with much yet to achieve, which prompted some listeners to call in accusing Holmes of "sour grapes". It was nothing of the sort. It was plain common sense, sadly prejudiced, to some ears, by the damehood conferred on Holmes herself after she won two gold medals in Athens.

Leaving aside the wider question of whether the honours system is an anachronism in the 21st century, it is undoubtedly applied with shocking inconsistency in the sporting arena. Fred Perry was never knighted, despite winning Wimbledon three times on the trot, not to mention being world table tennis champion, inventing the sweatband and lending his name to a clothing range currently favoured by German skinheads.

Even if a knighthood would have stuck in the craw of the Establishment in 1936, it could have been offered in his dotage. Maybe he quietly refused; his father was a Labour MP, after all. But I don't think Bob Paisley, despite even more impeccable proletarian roots, would have said no. I can quite understand why Liverpool fans – and I write as an Evertonian – still feel a simmering resentment that two Manchester United managers were knighted for, it is strongly contended on the Kop, lesser bodies of work. Paisley, as if it could ever be forgotten even by those of us who might like to, won six championships, three European Cups, three League Cups and the Uefa Cup in just nine years. Nor was the former miner John Stein ever invited to arise, Sir Jock, despite becoming, in 1967, the first manager of a British club to win the European Cup. And the late Alan Ball, along with four others from the 1966 World Cup-winning team, had to wait until 2000 to get so much as an MBE, the same award Paul Collingwood received, as (the conspicuously unhonoured) Shane Warne likes to point out, for scoring 17 runs in the fifth Test of the 2005 Ashes.

There are so many anomalies like this in sport that the anomaly is almost the rule. Here's a drum I've banged before but it always bears a little further thumping: Nick Faldo might not be the most popular British sportsman of recent times, but he is unarguably one of the very best, so why is it Sir Matthew Pinsent and Dame Ellen MacArthur, for example, but plain Nicholas Alexander Faldo MBE? I'm sure a knighthood is in the pipeline, but in some ways it would be a shame if it only comes after he has captained a winning team in next month's Ryder Cup. It ought to be, and be seen to be, a reward for the infinitely greater achievement of winning six major championships, and for his considerable contribution to junior golf, and nothing to do with the genuinely stirring but disturbingly histrionic festival of jingoism that the Ryder Cup has become.

Whatever, gongs should be a side show. Chris Hoy has three gold medals in a single Games to show for his sporting excellence; he doesn't need a knighthood too. But he will surely get one and that is fine; he is 32 and already a multiple world champion. Adlington is 19. Let her have a career before her DBE. And if we must have an honours system, let it at least be consistent.

Who cares about the captain of a sinking ship?

This column is not the first to draw a contrast between the shamefully listless, tactically moribund, utterly dispiriting performance of England's multimillionaire footballers on Wednesday night, and the inspiring, monumental efforts of comparatively impoverished athletes in Beijing.

But it was 24 hours earlier that I felt the bile rising, when I saw that some newspapers had devoted considerably more space to Fabio Capello's choice of captain than to Christine Ohuruogu's marvellous victory in the 400m final.

The match duly confirmed what I feared. I'm a keen football fan and I love to see England doing well (which these days is tantamount to saying that I love to see polar bears on skateboards), but frankly I don't give two hoots whether John Terry, or Rio Ferdinand, or Emile Heskey's granny wears the captain's armband, as long as whoever it might be leads out a team who can pass from A to B and possibly even on to C, play with some cohesion in defence, some coherence in midfield, and not wait until the 92nd minute to secure the most undeserving of draws with the scrappiest of goals, having made the Czech Republic look like the 1970 Brazilians.

A Die Hard fan of the Beeb

The BBC gets some almighty stick, but its Olympic coverage, both on radio and television, has beensuperb. Hats off to all the presenters and analysts, but particular plaudits go to Steve Ovett, who looks like Bruce Willis's slightly uglier brother and is as unyieldingly direct with his opinions as Bruce was with his bullets in Die Hard.

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