Stan Hey: Confined to quarters or out on the lash: a sporting dilemma


The film-maker Billy Wilder once advised a writer that a man coming in through a door wasn’t dramatic, but that a man coming in through a window was. Similarly, a rugby player having a drink and chatting to a blonde is not news. But when the rugby player is the stand-in England captain, married to a granddaughter of the Queen, you have both drama and news.

Mike Tindall’s encounter in the Altitude Bar in Queenstown, New Zealand, has been writ large, notably by way of security camera footage uploaded to YouTube with comments on his behaviour. Coming in the aftermath of England’s stressful win over Argentina in their first match of the World Cup, the incident, though innocent – the blonde woman is a mutual friend of Tindall, pictured, and his wife Zara Phillips – is exactly what team manager Martin Johnson asked his players to avoid.

The dynamics of the modern sports tour dictate that players need “down-time” after the adrenalin surge of competition, and that taking tea and scones in the lounge doesn’t count. A few drinks and a bonding session are essential relief from action on the field and boredom in the hotel.

One of the other dynamics is that star-struck or spiteful opportunists – or a branch of the press known as “rotters” – will be watching every move, with mobile-phone cameras, or digital recorders to hand. For the opportunists it’s a chance to make a name and possibly some money; for the “rotter” it’s the reason to be on the tour, to file anything remotely scandalous back to the office.

It wasn’t always so – before the digital and CCTV age, and “kiss’n’tell” – most sportsmen on tour could misbehave with relative impunity, as long as no crime was committed. But by the mid-1970s, codes of silence had faded. Most reported events were the result of drinking sessions – perhaps a Scottish international footballer adrift in the Irish Sea in a rowing boat at 4am or a young woman claiming to have had, that favourite tabloid word, a “romp” with a sports star. Larger-than-life personalities such as Ian Botham (alleged romp; spliff) and Freddie Flintoff (drunk in pedalo) will always be known by their indiscretions.

Team managers tried total tolerance or total prohibition. In 1990, the Irish football squad christened their hotel “the Betty Ford Clinic”. Sven Goran Eriksson allowed Wags into England’s hotel during the 2006 World Cup, while in 2010, Fabio Capello imprisoned his team with a just a swimming pool and table tennis for leisure. An element of control, and a measure of trust should be the key. All will become clear when England win/lose the rugby World Cup.

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