Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Fair game?

Dean Hardman
questions the relationship between public funding for sport and the reaction in the British press to the performance of UK players at Wimbledon who have 'failed' to live up to Andy Murray.

If you witnessed much of the British media reaction to the first round of Wimbledon last week, like me, you probably weren’t too surprised at some of the comments aimed at Britain’s tennis players, as they ‘crashed out’ of the tournament. They were invariably described as a national disgrace, as pathetic and, most tellingly, as a waste of public money and funding.

Alex Bogdanovic seemed to be the most harshly criticized, described by the Mirror as ‘serial loser Alex Bogdanovic’, with the opening to its news report of the first round pretty much summing up its stance, and that of the media as a whole:
‘King of the bottlers Alex Bogdanovic became Wimbledon's biggest all-time loser as the Brits equaled their worst wipe-out in history.
On a day of crying shame which left the Union Jack at half-mast, Anne Keothavong broke down in tears after her shock defeat by Patricia Mayr as the strawberry fields of SW19 became a showcase for Britain's Rot Talent.’ (Mirror)

I think that it’s pretty safe to assume that the British media, especially the tabloid press, have always been committed to a nationalist ideology, and that the fortunes of British players have always been a subject of fierce debate. However, I wonder whether the collective sense of shame that we are encouraged to feel, and the sense of outrage that is palpable, is partly to do with the level of public funding that tennis (and most other sports) receives.

There seems to be a growing sense that sportsmen and women should be accountable to the public and, when they fail to live up to the expectations that are partly created by an increase in funding, they should expect similar treatment to MPs who have built duck ponds and had moats cleaned – strong criticism for having wasted ‘our’ money.

Sports like tennis and athletics used to be individual endeavors in which athletes competed primarily for themselves. If ‘we’, as the media and public, wanted to share in any success or commiserate in failure, then great, but I don’t feel that there was the same sense of outright hostility towards athletes who performed to below expectations. The questions are whether this hostility and level accountability is fair and whether it is indeed related to the level of public funding directed towards sport.
(Photo credit: E01. Permissions.)

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