Another late summer morning, another punning sport scandal headline graces the front page of the Sun. ‘L.Pee.W’ screamed the red top from Newstands across the country, as news broke that England’s victorious Cricket squad had celebrated their triumph with not so much a sticky wicket as a wet one.
This would have been a big deal whatever the case – the mitigating circumstances put forward by the team (they were drunk and had to ‘answer the call of nature’) introduced the possibility for ‘debate’ necessary for any viral hit and ensured plenty of digital coverage. However, I can’t help but feel that this highlights one of British sport’s most enduring fallacies: why is it that we think of Cricket as the last bastion of sportsmanship?
Sport in general, goes the received wisdom, is now the domain of rampant corporate greed. One by one, each discipline has had its protectionist Byzantium stormed by the free market barbarians, from Ecclestone and his ilk in F1 to Ferguson and friends in football. Big money, big egos and colossal PR crises followed. It just ain’t the way it was when I went down the ground with a meat pie for 10p, basking in the comforting fog of the players’ half-time fags.
Cricket, by the same token, has the opposite public image. Instead of braying middle managers cheering on overpriced racists, cricket is all chillaxing Ken Clarke-a-likes, crisp natural fabrics and, at its very edgiest, Shane Warne’s haircut. This is patently ridiculous. Before wee-gate, we’ve had the Monty Panesar incident (oddly enough another wee-gate) and Kevin-Pietersen-may-have-used-special-pads-but-probably-didn’t-gate. Recent past years have seen Mr Warne himself fall foul of a nasty ‘sexting’ scandal, and last year there was rampant tabloid terror regarding corrupt Indian bookmakers fixing matches in the seemingly pristine world of British county cricket.
Is all sport doomed then? Undergoing a terminal decline? Well, yes and no. To be sure, scandal has always been with us. The annals of British history are littered with the names of great national hellraisers, from Vinnie to Gazza and beyond. Always headstrong, egotistical and unfettered, sports men and women have never been great role models, at least not since the widespread professionalisation of sports during the early-mid 20th century.
However, there is a difference. Recent distasteful behaviour in sport, whether it be the English rugby team tossing midgets, or the bout of al fresco relief with which I began this article, betrays cultural problems, not individual misdemeanours. We live in a world where gifted young footballers like Ravel Morrison live on the bench, drawing their salary while the powers that be wait for them to mature – or not. A world where sports have become so completely dominated by the logic of the market that the players don’t even believe in their more romantic side any more. Belief in one’s own greatness can lead to downfall, but I’d rather see a dramatic meltdown than watch our greatest sporting heroes behave like bored teenagers, urinating on the wicket because they can’t think of anything else to do.