David Gold: Footballers are reviled for their bad tempers, so why are Olympians and Paralympians forgiven?
Friday, 31 August 2012
Yet Cundy, a lower leg amputee, rather than be ripped into and psychologically dissected by every member of the media with a few minutes to spare, and many of those without, will probably earn the nation's sympathy.
And rightly so. After all, Cundy's said it himself – four years of his life wasted because he was unable to get cleanly away from his starting blocks, whether due to his own mistake or a technical malfunction. The umpire ruled that it was his fault. Whichever it was, you cannot help but feel sorry for someone who has had something they have worked towards for nearly 1,500 days torn away from them in front of a home crowd at the biggest sporting event they will ever take part in.
The controversy came in the men's individual C4-5 1 kilometre time trial. The 33-year-old was visibly furious after his disqualification, throwing things at the floor in the centre of the Velodrome.
As he was forced to accept his fate, Cundy yelled and swore. He had been hoping to add to his two cycling golds from Beijing and previous three Paralympic swimming titles.
The news of Cundy's disqualification was met with dismay by the boisterous home crowd. Boos rang around the arena as Spain's Alfonso Cabello was announced the winner. This was a turn of events: earlier Cabello had brought out some of the loudest cheers for a non-British rider heard here so far for his simply brilliant performance.
Cabello smashed the world record with one of the most thrilling pieces of action of the whole day, travelling faster and faster still, recording a time of 1min 05.947sec. Britain's Jon Butterworth, racing the Spaniard for the gold, responded, as did the crowd, who roared him around the track, but he just missed out on the gold by just the narrowest of margins – 0.038 seconds.
A consolation for the British team, but they will be left to rue Cundy's disqualification and share his frustration, albeit in a more private way.
Cundy's behaviour does bring to mind an important and topical question. Why are we so keen to bash our footballers? At the Olympic Games, they were derided as we collectively wondered, why can they not be more like Olympians? Or Paralympians for that matter?
Probably because when, having been booed by his own fans, Rooney screams into a camera to register his annoyance, he gets torn to bits. Yet it is simply impossible to imagine that happening to, say, the swimmer Rebecca Adlington – as I just attempted to picture. There are some good reasons for that. One is that Adlington, even when failing to live up to her high standards and claiming "only" bronze, still receives huge cheers, as do Britain's goalball and handball teams when they inevitably suffer humiliating defeats. And Adlington, unlike Rooney, is not paid huge sums of money. She also happens to be one of the nicest people you could meet – but then I'm sure there are plenty of similarly amiable footballers who have had any semblance of personality or character drained from them by intense media scrutiny.
So essentially, we treat our footballers differently and expect a different standard of behaviour from them because a) they are paid more and b) we care more about football. Most sports at the Olympics we don't even care about any more. No one was bothered that Britain was eviscerated in the basketball. We should have been, but no one expected anything else.
This is not to absolve all footballers of their errors and blame them on us. One of England's best players, Ashley Cole, wrote in his own autobiography that he almost swerved off the road in anger at being offered "just" £55,000 ($870,000/ €69,000) a week by his former club Arsenal. And we have two high profile footballers – including the former England captain John Terry – who have admitting using racist language (even if insisting that it was not meant in an offensive way) in the last year. There is no excuse for any of that, but not every player is like this. For every racist, there are probably a dozen or more who have their own charitable foundation.
So it may not be fashionable to say it, but we are probably a bit harsh on footballers. The reason we are so disappointed in their behaviour is because football is, frankly, our favourite sport – not because footballers are uniquely annoying. Our second and third favourite sports are cricket and rugby, and we get just as irritated with their antics when they misbehave, like the England team did at the Rugby Union World Cup last year.
Usain Bolt is only loved so universally in this country because athletics is not as popular as these sports. Quite frankly, if Bolt had been a footballer for Manchester United for the last five years, he would probably be quite divisive. He has an arrogance that everyone loves because, let's be honest, it's the good kind of arrogant. It's the José Mourinho form – where you proclaim yourself the best, and it's actually true. But football fans are so fickle, tribal and tense, that they hate any form of arrogance. Put that in the context of an intense football rivalry with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City fans, and if Bolt was really playing for United, you could imagine him getting roundly booed when he was playing away to these teams.
And we jump on our footballers because they are paid so much. Why is this? Because there is so much money in the game. Why is there so much money? Because we are addicted to it, something Sky Sports have so brilliantly exploited, as have our clubs. As much as we may complain about ticket prices, we don't do what the Germans or French do and actually refuse to pay what we are asked to stump up.
Anger at player wages has always mystified me. In France, there was criticism of Zlatan Ibrahimović's salary when he signed for Paris Saint-Germain. Or to put it another way, politicians were effectively having a go at a member of the Qatari royal family for buying one of their football clubs, signing a Swedish player and adding millions to the Government's annual budget to pay for the rest of France's healthcare and pensions. Given our own tax rates, the public effectively make more from a footballer's salary than the player does every week. It may be irritating, if like me, you are an Arsenal fan and your club is consistently gazumped by wealthy foreign billionaires in signing the best players. But in terms of the public good, surely large player wages are a good thing, especially when so many of the world's richest teams are English. Maybe it is just me, but it seems preferable for the Government to have more money to spend than to bring footballers a little closer to our level economically.
Oh yes, the Paralympics. So I don't blame Cundy at all for his reaction. If I was in his situation, I may well have done the same. It is impossible to imagine how frustrated he must be right now. But it did make me think, don't we just treat our footballers with a bit too much scorn, basically because we care more and pay more to see them do what they do? And that is a choice we make – not them.
David Gold is a reporter for insidethegames. You can follow him on twitter here.