It’s a farce – but I’ll be watch­ing

Pretoria News Weekend - - SPORT -

WHAT was the most de­grad­ing sports event in his­tory? I sup­pose gla­di­a­tors fight­ing an­i­mals or an­i­mals killing Chris­tians for en­ter­tain­ment would take the cake, so let’s con­fine the ques­tion to mod­ern his­tory.

Many would say it was when Jesse Owens, per­haps the great­est sports­man of all time, was re­duced to run­ning against horses for money.

With re­spect to Usain Bolt and his mar­vel­lous legacy, peo­ple for­get that in ad­di­tion to his four Olympic gold medals in 1936, Owens once broke three world records and tied a fourth in one af­ter­noon. It was in Michi­gan in 1935.

Just stop and think about that achieve­ment for a mo­ment. It is truly in­cred­i­ble.

Many myths abound about the Olympics and af­ter­wards, Owens him­self re­vealed that Hitler did shake his hand after all – not that the fact hu­man­ises the ter­ri­ble dic­ta­tor one bit.

Jesse Owens was a true su­per­star.

How­ever, he re­ceived en­dorse­ments, was banned by Amer­i­can ath­let­ics and found him­self short of money, hence the races against horses.

De­grad­ing? Yes! But as he said: “You can’t eat gold medals.”

Jesse lost the first race but then tri­umphed. He learnt that the start gun fright­ened the horse and that gave him mo­ments to build up a lead.

Mind you, no­body cares today. They were sad gim­micks and most read about the ini­tia­tive with a mix­ture of sad­ness and re­vul­sion.

Bryan Ha­bana run­ning against the chee­tah and Michael Phelps swim­ming against the shark were one-day won­ders. I bet you can­not even re­mem­ber who were the so-called “win­ners”.

At least char­ity ben­e­fited some­where along the way and nei­ther sport­ing great had to take part just to feed his fam­ily. So, no harm done – ex­cept per­haps to the dig­nity of rugby and swim­ming, if you want to re­ally split hairs.

That leads us to the cir­cus that will take place in the early hours of to­mor­row morn­ing (SA time) be­tween Floyd May­weather jr and Conor McGre­gor. What do you make of it? The pro­mo­tion has been re­lent­less and vul­gar and even McGre­gor’s in­fa­mous suit, with the “fuck you” pin­stripes seems to re­flect the pre­vail­ing at­ti­tude to the legacy of con­ven­tional sport.

No blame can re­ally be placed at the feet, or wal­lets, of the ath­letes. They came up tough and can make hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars ex­ploit­ing the greed of tele­vi­sion and the gulli­bil­ity of mil­lions of peo­ple.

In fair­ness, con­trived in­sult and dis­like has fu­elled box­ing for years.

Muham­mad Ali was the mas­ter of this, although Joe Fra­zier never for­gave him for the hu­mil­i­a­tion he suf­fered at the ver­bal abuse.

Ge­orge Fore­man used his fame to pro­mote healthy eat­ing and made mil­lions more from his cook­ing aids than from box­ing.

Will this fight be gen­uine? I doubt it. Will it be quick or drawn out? Who knows? Will the vic­tor agree to a re­turn match after it is all over? Un­doubt­edly. Why stop now when so much can be made?

The key to it all is that the fight tran­scends con­ven­tional sport. It is a gim­mick. The nov­elty and pro­mo­tion of it all have cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of the world.

Can a cage fighter who is as tough as nails de­feat a mas­ter in a dif­fer­ent dis­ci­pline? It hasn’t been seen be­fore, so no­body knows.

Throw in the fire­works, the lights, mu­sic and danc­ing girls and we have an event that has as­sumed “must see” sta­tus.

The prob­lem starts when it is copied.

What hap­pens when other pro­mot­ers de­cide to in­ter­face with other sports peo­ple? What hap­pens if, by de­sign or luck, they hit on a for­mula that en­dures rather than fades?

If that hap­pens, will we see top per­form­ers in tra­di­tional sports fol­low­ing the money and mi­grat­ing to the new com­pro­mise edi­tions?

Who knows? But T20 cricket and Rugby Sev­ens are show­ing what can hap­pen if you pro­vide sim­plis­tic and un­sub­tle vari­a­tions of your sport.

Will I watch? Of course I will – and so will you. We have been cap­tured by hype, mar­ket­ing, and cu­rios­ity.

I won­der there­fore, if one day we’ll look back sadly and ad­mit that we were in­di­rectly the cause of the demise of a great sport. Or many.

Will a gim­mick end up de­grad­ing sports that are tra­di­tional, his­toric and loved? Only time will tell. ●

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