It’s a farce – but I’ll be watching
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. ●