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1st March 2012

British reputation on the line as Olympics approach

As the London games approaches, Tom Harris takes a look at the British athletes who have caused controversy in such an important year for British sport.

Reputations are an irksome concept; you spend years developing one only for it to be shattered in one single moment of misjudgement. Mohammad Amir, the richly-talented Pakistan seamer, was undoubtedly destined for a glorious career but instead has had his reputation torn apart after being convicted of spot-fixing.

Amir has been expelled from cricket for five years but re-constructing his broken reputation will take years of hard graft. Amir, is certainly not alone in making mistakes. Professional sport is synonymous with pressure and is what makes spectators flock to stadia; Billie Jean King once declared that ‘pressure is a privilege’ but a myriad of sportsmen and women react differently when the spotlight is blinding them. In these situations a psychologist would suggest that our natural instincts take over and as professional sportsman are elite athletes the skill they execute is normally accurate.

However, as with the majority of theories, there are exceptions. Wayne Rooney, during a Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro last year- lashed out belligerently at defender Miodrag Dzudovic- earning himself a dismissal and a deserved three game ban, reduced, incredibly, to two on appeal. England required a solitary point from that match to guarantee qualification and were cruising at 2-0 in the Podgorican cauldron of atmosphere and intimidation when Rooney saw red, illustrating the fact that pressure is permanent in professional sport.

It would not be unfair to argue that as professional athletes are continually pressurised-and are paid handsomely to deal with it-they should be able to cope. The behaviour of members of the England Rugby World Cup squad in New Zealand highlighted an inability to handle the overwhelming expectations of a nation.

Mike Tindall, captain at the time, was allegedly seen kissing a woman while inebriated in a Queenstown bar-weeks after his wedding with the Queen’s grand daughter, Zara Philips. Tindall was consequently fined £25,000 and was kicked out of the RFU. Chris Ashton and James Haskell were both warned about their conduct and fined £5,000 following unsuitable comments made to a female hotel worker in Dunedin. Furthermore, Manu Tuilagi was cautioned by police after jumping off a ferry and swimming to shore shortly after England were defeated by France at the quarter final stage; the Leicester centre was punished with a £3,000 fine.

A World Cup tournament is naturally very draining and achieving the balance right between training hard and relaxing is paramount, but the aforementioned players failed to realise their every move is scrutinised when representing their country. When things are going well on the pitch you earn a bit of leeway off it, fans and the media are generally more accepting but having under-performed considerably in the tournament, England returned home with a reputation of beer-swigging, social junkies rather than devout professionals.

It was British Boxing’s turn last month to have its opportunity to shoot itself in the foot with an embarrassing catalogue of incidents. The ever-controversial Derek Chisora was clearly on a mission to disgrace himself and leave another of our governing bodies, the Britsh Boxing Board of Control, very red-faced. The Zimbabwean-born heavyweight petulantly slapped his opponent, Vitali Klitschko, at the weigh-in, and spat water in the face of his brother Wladimir, before the fight. Only Chisora himself will know why he acted in that fashion but I am inclined to believe that the overpowering pressure of the occasion engulfed him. To his credit, he performed admirably in the ring and could have salvaged his reputation. However, he instead opted to become embroiled in a ludicrous war of words with retired British heavyweight, David Haye, at the post-fight press conference which escalated into mayhem with both men brawling absurdly. Chisora has paid the price with an indefinite ban from the sport being handed to him by the World Boxing Council.

On July 6th 2005 Jacques Rogge announced in front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Singapore that “the Games of the XXXth Olympiad in 2012 are awarded to the city of…London”. Six-and-a-half years of preparation and diligence and a figure in the region of £5-9 billion has been invested; attempting to make London a creditable host of one of the biggest, if not the biggest, sporting events in the world.

However, is all this planning being tarnished by the actions of a minority of our British sportsmen, our so-called “role models”? Do other nations view the British with a degree of disdain? We must hope that our reputation remains very much positive, despite recent events and that the impression London gives the Games and the people of the world is very much a lasting one: for all the right reasons.

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