Terence Blacker: Trust Branson to make it clear that all sport is really about money

The Way We Live

Share
Related Topics

Surgeries across the country are apparently dealing with a surge in cases of listlessness, low self-worth and non-specific disappointment, caused by the passing of our great summer of sport. Those suffering from what doctors call Post Olympic Depression Syndrome, or PODS, are having difficulty coming to terms with a world in which the British do not win things, where everyday life is neither cheerful nor friendly, and where foreigners no more love us than we love them.

The PODS epidemic is about to get worse. Our Olympic heroes, those wonderful people who reminded the nation of the true meaning of sport, are now making plans for the future, with the help of accountants, managers and marketing experts.

Leading the pack, as one would expect, is our great double-gold winner Mo Farah who is to be the new face of Virgin Media. Unveiling the new frontman, a branding manager announced: "Virgin Media is all about delivering brilliant entertainment, and nobody has got the nation cheering at their TVs more than Mo over the last couple of weeks. Like Mo, we are also obsessed with speed, particularly broadband speed." To make the point, Mo was on hand to pose for the cameras, doing his hands-on-the-head thing while wearing a ginger Bransonesque beard.

There are few sights more guaranteed to dispel Olympic euphoria than that of Mo Farah impersonating Sir Richard Branson. The rest of us may suffer from PODS, but Branson has for some time been a victim of CREEP, Chronic Repetitive Entrepreneurial Ego Problem. No Virgin commercial is complete without some simpering, cult-like reference to, or appearance by, or celebrity imitation of, the great leader.

The effect is oddly lowering. When Usain Bolt was paid to pretend to be Branson in a series of TV ads before the Olympics, and when Farah submits to similar humiliation in the future, a basic, depressing truth is confirmed. In the end, it is not physical achievement or the indomitable human spirit which has the last word in sport; it is money. Donning a Branson beard in return for an eye-watering fee, great athletes are like Hollywood stars dancing on a table at a billionaire's wedding.

We PODS sufferers have tried our best to resist this conclusion. Farah's Branson imitation has not been widely publicised. When Usain Bolt mentioned in an interview that he would not be running in Britain unless there were changes to the way international sports stars are taxed, the subsequent discussions were about revenue questions rather than personal greed. We prefer our heroes to be untainted.

The reverse system applies for public villains. Among media moralists, the cliché of the past fortnight has been to compare our glorious, honourable, sporting Olympians with selfish, foul-mouthed, money-grubbing footballers. It is a criticism which has its roots in a deep social snobbery.

No footballer behaved badly enough on the first weekend of the season to be pilloried in the press, but a top cricketer has shown disloyalty and egotism on a grand scale. Because cricket has not the image problem that football has, we have seen little carping comparison between the virtue of Olympic athletes and the crassness of Kevin Pietersen.

It has become customary to sneer at footballers who, nine months a year, are under pressure and scrutiny from those in charge of their careers – from the press and public – in a way that few, if any, of those appearing at the Olympics have had to experience. They are part of a brutal market, involved in a tough contact sport, criticised and abused if they lose their temper on the pitch, or celebrate in the wrong way, or with the wrong person, on Saturday night. It is absurd to compare that sort of relentless pressure to the task of Olympians, preparing for their big day before a friendly, celebratory crowd once every four years.

Mo Farah's commercial for Virgin should remind us that sport is business, and that it is an illusion to divide its champions into opposing camps – glorious Corinthians who happen to get paid and grubby professionals.

How long can summer loving last?

In August, it can be a tricky business differentiating between news stories included to fill up space and matters of real concern. It seems fairly clear that the item on Radio 4 about the problem of feral chickens in Bermuda was a filler.

On the other hand, a book called The New Rules of Marriage could well last into September, maybe even October. It suggests that the old style of marriage, an amiable muddle of lust, friendship and practicality, is being abandoned by modern couples. Some have no-strings-attached bunk-ups, known as "playfairs". Others develop what are known as "parallel relationships". It is a restless time of the year – sun, holidays, a general shedding of clothes. I shall not be convinced that these new rules are going to catch on until they have lasted through the cold winter months.

www.terenceblacker.com

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor