The Federer-Nadal rivalry is celebrated as one of the finest in the game, just as the McEnroe-Borg was. Yet, some of sports’ biggest rivalries can be found among those who play for the same team. This is not surprising. If stars were required by law to display their ingredients in the manner of foodstuff, then most of them would have to mention huge egos, thin skins, class consciousness, ageism and more on their charts. The mix would differ, changing according to time, amount of success, increase in self-esteem and so on.
The Pietersen-Strauss affair
When Kevin Pietersen tweeted recently that “all the nonsense between the two of us is a thing of the past,” he was referring to the feud with Andrew Strauss his team-mate, who later, as Director of the England and Wales Cricket Board brought an end to Pietersen’s career. This followed a series of messages about Strauss that Pietersen, playing for England, shared with rivals South Africa.
But few are willing to let all that nonsense die a natural death. Or even push things towards death with an apology. The Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan case is back in the public consciousness thanks to the movie I, Tonya . The facts are simple enough. In 1994, the ice skaters were rivals for the Olympics team, when Kerrigan was attacked and had her knee broken by people who turned out to have been hired by Tonya’s then husband. Tonya herself didn’t know of the plan, but paid a price for keeping quiet after the event when she finally came to know. Tonya, now Tonya Price, was banned while Kerrigan went on to win a silver. There has been no reconciliation between the two.
Ali and Frazier
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were both world heavyweight champions. In 1996 after Ali lit the cauldron at the Atlanta Olympics, Frazier said, “He should have fallen in.” It was startling at many levels. For one, Ali was in an advanced stage of Parkinson’s Syndrome and physically diminished. For another, the two of them had fought three of the sport’s most gruelling and storied bouts. Yet it all went back to the early years when Ali suggested in his taunting manner that Frazier was an Uncle Tom and called him ugly and ignorant besides.
Years later Ali said he regretted those remarks, but Frazier, who predeceased him carried his hurt to the grave.
Always at loggerheads
Often it is a class thing. As between Lahore’s aristocratic Imran Khan and Karachi’s commoner Javed Miandad. Or between British stars Sebastian Coe and Linford Christie. The latter called the former a racist, while Coe said Christie had been lucky to escape a drug suspension. In the case of the Don Bradman-Bill O’Reilly rivalry, religion is said to have played a role with the Protestant Bradman coming up against the Irish Catholics in his team, O’Reilly, Jack Fingleton, and Stan McCabe. During the Sunil Gavaskar-Kapil Dev feud in the 1980s younger players were sometimes forced to choose sides.
Great rivalries, as I said, are often found within the same team.