A pet theory of mine, one with which I will cheerfully bore anyone after – or, on occasion, even before – two or three glasses of red, is that a disproportionate percentage of business tycoons are either very big men, such as the late Robert Maxwell, or very small men, like Bernie Ecclestone.
Now obviously there are also lots of medium-sized tycoons, but, percentage-wise, far more business barons than, say, postmen or GPs or chartered accountants, are either unusually large or unusually titchy. One reason for this, in my opinion, is that the big bloke, the first man you notice in a crowded room, uses his physical dominance over the people around him to make his fortune, whereas the small bloke compensates for being all-too literally overlooked in a crowded room by making himself dominant in other ways. There you have my cod psychoanalysis of how 5ft 2in Bernie came to rule motorsport.
And so to the world's most disgruntled sportsmen, NBA basketball players and British jockeys. I'm not sure that my tycoon theory really applies, but in the actual and potential strike action currently disrupting both sports maybe there's something of the little man's determination not to be pushed around, and the big man's anger at being powerless, despite his enormous size. Or maybe that's rubbish, but at the very least, it is irresistible to think of them forming a kind of sporting solidarity movement, marching into battle behind LeBron James and Frankie Dettori. After all, the feeling that you're being diddled by the men in suits is enough to bridge a 13-inch height gap.
Both disputes, of course, are principally about money. Pound notes and dollar bills are what make the sporting world go round, and also what cause it to career off its axis. More than 80 years ago, the historian E N Gardiner noted glumly that "when money enters into sport, corruption is sure to follow".
But cheating and corruption are only the most extreme manifestations of the way in which money taints sport and sportspeople. Greed, envy and complacency also help to warp the values that Tommy Trinder thought he was reinforcing, not undermining, when 50 years ago he declared, as chairman of Fulham FC, that since Johnny Haynes was a top entertainer he would henceforth be paid like one, and receive £100 a week.
Trinder was right, and practically at the stroke of a fountain pen, football emerged from its feudal past. Yet keeping players' salaries commensurate with those of top entertainers would lead to a scenario that Trinder could never have envisaged: fatal subsidence in the common ground between footballers and the working man. Certainly, the old comedian would have found nothing to laugh at when the wretched Ashley Cole notoriously admitted five years ago that he had nearly swerved off the road in disgust and dismay on learning from his agent that Arsenal were offering him a mere 55 grand a week.
All that said, there are times when aggrieved sportsmen are on the side of the angels, and so it still is with the jockeys. If any of them had handled their mounts as incompetently as the British Horseracing Authority initially handled the changes to the whip regulations, then they would deserve to be stripped of their earnings. But so far, none of them have. Moreover, despite the welcome compromises made yesterday by the BHA, serious misuse of the whip can still propel a horse to victory, yielding prize money for the owner that he will keep, even as a ban, and forfeiture of a share of the winnings, is slapped on the jockey.
As for the basketball players, they are in dispute in essence because they don't like having to split the sport's vast revenues 50:50 with the team owners. Before, it was weighted 57:43 in favour of the players, who, my friends in the United States assure me, do actually have a case. Either way, it is on the back of one of the more enthralling NBA seasons that the start of the new season has been postponed. Football and rugby union are not the only sports governed by ditherers, fools and craven self-interest; that's the long and the short of it.
Lewis must be allowed to make a name for himself
Is it just me who winces on being presented with the statistic, as we repeatedly have been these last few days, that it took Tiger Woods five attempts, and Rory McIlroy 38, to win their first professional golf titles, whereas Tom Lewis, by winning the Portugal Masters last Sunday, did it at only the third time of asking? Without the slightest doubt, Lewis is a young man loaded with talent, and those of us who crossed his path at this year's Open can also testify to his excellent temperament. But, for our own sakes as much as his, let's not anoint him the new Rory. He's no more the new Rory than Rory is the new Tiger, though I grant you that it looked for quite a while as if Tiger was the new Jack.
Underdogs can enjoy awaydays
Hands up if you think France will beat New Zealand, in New Zealand, tomorrow. Thought not. But then, hands up if you thought Greece would beat Portugal, in Portugal, in the final of the 2004 European Championship. There isn't such a phrase as "away advantage", but maybe there should be.Reuse content