This weekend two groups of highly motivated, highly skilled people will dominate our television screens. One group will be staying in basic accommodation, carefully budgeting their cash, and nearly all of them will not make a penny.
The other group will also be clad in sportswear, but they'll be festooned in designer jewellery, driving £100,000 sports cars and will already have lucrative sponsorship and advertising deals in place on top of their ludicrously inflated salaries. Many of this group will be indulging in excessive drinking and recreational drugs after work.
The difference in lifestyles and rewards offered to two groups of sportsmen and women in this country has never been more marked. On the one side, Premier League footballers, and the other, our Olympic squad.
I don't believe there is anyone planning to compete for this country in Athens this weekend who has recently mown down someone in their car and then "hidden" for a day or so. By the same token, Panorama may find the morality of the executives running the Olympic movement questionable, but most of us wish the sportspeople participating on behalf of Britain nothing but success.
Sure, there will be the odd rotten apple exposed by more stringent drug testing but, by and large, most of our Olympic squad are young people of whom we should be proud. They are extraordinary people who have given up enormous amounts of time and effort for little reward in order to pursue a goal. And in the process, from Paula Radcliffe downwards, they make excellent role models.
Professional football, on the other hand, is an activity tarnished from top to bottom. Run by an organisation that quite frankly one wouldn't trust with the management of a paper-clip factory, let alone a business where billions of pounds change hands, it is a sport that desperately needs a charismatic forward-thinker at its helm. And as James Lawton wrote in this newspaper the other day, that person is most definitely not the feeble current FA Chairman, Geoff Thompson. Neither is it David Mellor, a man who has spent the last couple of years reinventing himself as a "thinker" of sorts since his own particular sex scandal.
On Monday of this week, ITV devoted a chunk of prime time in its main interview slot to a chat with Faria Alam, the secretary who bonked the former FA chief executive Mark Palios, and then Sven Eriksson, the England coach. The tone adopted by the interviewer, Fiona Foster, would have been more suitable for a convicted paedophile or serial killer. I had to keep reminding myself that I was only watching a pleasant, middle-class, rather well-spoken woman talk about a couple of flings with men who were both - hold the front page - single at the time!
Having paid £100,000 for their "scoop", the programme's producers must have been disappointed that nothing was revealed beyond the fact that Ms Alam lied to her bosses about her sex life. As the end credits rolled, I nearly called in to offer Ms Alam a job. She was everything you would want in a perfect PA, friendly, calm under pressure, self-effacing and humble. Everything, in short, that her rather ill-chosen love-objects were not.
Ms Alam may have earned an estimated £500,000 from her dishwasher revelations, but that pales into nothing compared to the money dished out to Premier League players. Her crime, if she is guilty of anything, is that she refused to kowtow to a pathetic plan to hoodwink the press, dreamt up by FA bosses in order to save the skin of one of their own.
Earlier on Monday, Lee Hughes, who earned £20,000 a week playing for West Bromwich, was sentenced to six years in prison after he was found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving. He drove his £100,000 Mercedes sports car into another vehicle, after drinking in two pubs, killing one man and injuring another so seriously that he is now confined to a wheelchair. Hughes then got out of his car with a friend and ran off, disappearing for 34 hours, leaving his victims to their fate.
Banning Hughes from driving for 10 years and asking him to pay a pitiful £8,467 in costs on top of the jail sentence is not really punishment enough. This wealthy young man lived in a £750,000 house and could afford the top legal advice to defend him in court, whereas money spent on learning some social skills and moral values earlier in his career would have been a better investment. In mitigation, all he could managed was a statement saying he "regretted" leaving the scene of the crash, claiming he "panicked". And although Hughes' contract with West Bromwich has been cancelled, the damage done to football on top of the grubby Beckham affair, Wayne Rooney's revelations and the goings-on at the FA offices is abysmal.
I do not pretend to understand the minutiae of a sport that careers from one crisis to the next, with recent scandals involving the rebuilding of Wembley, gang rapes in hotels, fighting in and out of nightclubs, the finances of the FA, and the huge money paid out in television rights. If football is to be deemed our national game, it has to be run by a man or woman capable of applying the highest standards to every aspect of the game. Transparency and fair dealing must start at the top.
With the salaries of players and managers and coaches skyrocketing out of control, huge transfer fees, and masses of money to be made in sponsorship and advertising, no wonder young men want to take up the sport. But why do the people running it seem to forget that they owe these young men some form of education beyond the locker room and the pitch, some care system that nurtures them and prepares them for fame, wealth, and the years when it will all be over?
Football is run by a bunch of cynics who pick people up and then dump them at will. They treat players, managers and coaches like that, and secretaries too. The idea that Eriksson invoked his human rights in order to stay earning £10,000 a day as the England coach is risible. The whole system is rotten, and no one, from Wayne Rooney to Mr Palios, offers any kind of role model to the young whatsoever. After this Saturday's Norwich game, the club's majority shareholder, Delia Smith, has organised a thanksgiving service in the grounds. We may mock, but here is someone who has gone out of her way to put more than money into the sport and the team she adores.
The sooner Delia is put in charge of the FA and ends the macho culture of middle-aged blokes in blazers who spending their time stroking secretaries' thighs at official dinners the better, and the sooner the Government sets up an advisory council that lays down rules on matters like the use of players in junk-food advertising, the happier I'll be.
Over the coming weeks I hope that the public see what brilliant ambassadors for Britain our unpaid Olympic squad are, and that they stop according our top footballers the esteem and hero-worship that, quite frankly, they do not justify. And I hope that Mr Hughes will announce he is setting up a trust fund for his victim's family; that David Beckham will be paying for free dental care for all the children's teeth he's helped to rot; and Gary Lineker will be sponsoring slimming and sports camps for obese youngsters.
But pigs might fly first.Reuse content