Terence Blacker: No winners in the race for sporting glory

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The Independent Online

Yesterday's heroes are feeling sad, it seems. Many of the sportsmen and women who, a matter of months ago, had provided the nation with a spasm of pride and optimism have been feeling a little down recently.

Victoria Pendleton, who won an Olympic gold medal in the cycling sprint, has admitted to being "kind of sad and numb". Another cyclist, Rebecca Romero, has not raced since winning in Beijing and is muttering about trying to recover her enthusiasm for competition. It has become a common syndrome among successful athletes, according to a leading coach. They are depressed, aware of a sense of loss.

Perhaps this week, which has provided more moments of sporting triumph for home teams, is a good moment to point out why British victories can sometimes feel oddly alien and unsatisfying. A trophy should belong to a community, but no longer does. An important local, even national, connection has been lost. When, speaking of the European Champions League this week, the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said that "England can be very proud to have four teams in the quarter-finals for the second year", he was peddling an illusion.

Wenger is French. The three other successful managers are Spanish, Dutch and Scottish. In the starting line-up of the four English teams playing in the Champions League this week, less than a third of the players came from the United Kingdom. Arsenal kicked off with an all-foreign side. Playing Real Madrid, Liverpool had twice as many Spaniards as they did Englishmen.

In this context, an English victory is not a reflection of the English game, players, tactics or even owners, but merely how much money has been spent. It is a sad state of affairs but, such is our desperation to win at any cost, that it has taken a Frenchman, Michel Platini – once a great player, now the president of the governing body of European football Uefa – to point out that the trend is unhealthy for our national sport.

A successful sporting club should be connected to its community, Platini has argued. It is for that reason that German clubs are not seen as commercial operations and cannot be owned by foreigners. Platini favours some kind of limit on the number of foreign players one team can field.

This proposal, currently being considered by those running international football, has been roundly rejected by those in charge of the British game, and indeed by most supporters. To them, it seems, all that matters is profit and victory. Football tycoons are cheerfully unregulated. Fans are too obsessed with trophies to care. Premier League teams made an estimated £1.8bn last season, a laughably small amount of which trickles down to the game at the grassroots. The Football Foundation, set up to improve local facilities, receives £15m a year – about 1.5 per cent of the Premier League's annual income from TV.

The connection between the ordinary and extraordinary, the local and the national, has been broken. Why should football tycoons be interested in encouraging grassroots football if they can buy the best players from abroad?

The Government has boasted of its commitment to participation in sport, but figures published this week have revealed that one playing field a day was being sold for development in 2006-07. Until it is realised that there is more to sport than winning, that the connection to local communities matters more than money, then our successful athletes will remain dissatisfied, and many of our victories are likely to feel strangely hollow.

What an ugly reaction to the beauty of nature

A roebuck which has had the misfortune to be born white will soon find its life in the Scottish lowlands becoming rather uncomfortable. It is so beautiful and unusual that sports enthusiasts all over Europe are eager to celebrate its rarity by shooting it.

The owner of the land where it has been seen is hoping to make £6,000 by auctioning off the right to stalk it next month, with bids being expected from Germany, Holland and France.

"Anyone who loves deer-stalking will think about going to shoot it," the editor of Sporting Rifle has explained. His magazine will be running "a white roebuck diary".

One of those eager to kill the deer, a man called Dave Bartle, has explained that it anyway needs culling since it is "a freak".

What an appropriate term that is for the inadequates whose only reaction to natural beauty is to destroy it.

Publish and be damned – to the bestseller lists

Mummy has written a book about her teenage son and drugs. Daddy has written a long newspaper article on the same subject. The son has had his say. Everyone has been interviewed extensively. "No book has had this much attention since The Satanic Verses," one newspaper has solemnly intoned.

Enough. It is surely now time to put L'affaire Myerson to bed. No one has died. At one point, many people, myself included, believed that the son would be harmed by the book's publication, but he seems to have taken a remarkably grown-up attitude towards the whole thing, merely describing his parents as insane. If he has any sense, he will get a publishing deal himself.

There is a niggling sense that we have all been taken for a bit of a ride on the PR express. Drugs, a middle-class family, a telegenic writer wrestling with her conscience: it was the perfect media storm, and has been played out to perfection.

Congratulations to all involved. You have your bestseller. Job done.

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