Simon Kelner: Frankly, this sporting life is getting out of hand

Kelner's view

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The Independent Online

I love sport. I was brought up in a family where a good deal of importance was attached to sport. My background in newspapers is in sports journalism, and I have had the privilege of meeting some of the world's great sporting figures. I have been to most of the major events.

All my life, sport has played with my emotions, and I regularly have a lachrymose reaction to some feat of outstanding bravery or persistence. So, in the week the Olympics begin in London, I feel perfectly equipped to question whether sport is occupying a little too much of our attention these days? Are we in danger of getting it all a little out of perspective?

A British man wins a bike race that most of us have never shown any interest in, and a picture of him is splashed over the entire front page of the Times of London. This is not in any way to denigrate the achievement of Bradley Wiggins, who not only has the stamina and invincibility of a superhero, but has shown that cash from a Murdoch organisation can be put to good use (he is sponsored by Sky).

Nevertheless, am I – a sports devotee through and through – the only person who thinks that the reaction to Wiggins's victory was just a little over-the-top? Lead story on the broadcast news all Sunday night? Well, we are entering the silly season. Yes, he was the first Briton to win the Tour de France, an event that lasts three weeks and whose rules and practice are so arcane that very few people in this country can claim to know what's going on. It is certainly a very difficult sport to follow on television.

But perhaps it's enough just to know that Wiggins won, that we beat those feckless continentals at their own game, and that for one day only we are all cycling fans. Who am I to cavil at this transitory display of national rejoicing?

By this time next week, of course, we'll probably all be gymnastics experts, or diving aficionados, or followers of fencing, and new heroes will be hyped to the heavens. I am finding it all a little much, so I can't imagine what someone not interested in sport must feel, particularly when there is plenty of other news around: for example, economic collapse, mayhem in Colorado, and the transformation of The Archers into Scarface.

When I started in sports journalism, a colleague from another part of the paper used to call the sports desk "the toy department". It was a supercilious observation calculated to put our backs up. And it succeeded: we pointed out that, in contrast to, say, politics, sport is something that people actually care about, have strong opinions about, and enjoy talking about. All this I still believe to be true.

However, I also think that the pendulum may have swung too far, and we are in danger of investing sport with too much significance, another indication, perhaps, of media desperation for good news and the creeping infantilisation of us as a nation.

On the other hand, the assertions above could be further evidence that I'm becoming a world champion killjoy. Allez!