Policing our stars

Published : Aug 23, 2003 00:00 IST

KOBE BRYANT is in court, Mike Tyson is seldom out of it. Dennis Rodman only seemed to do clever things on a basketball court and even Boris Becker has children coming out of closets.


KOBE BRYANT is in court, Mike Tyson is seldom out of it. Dennis Rodman only seemed to do clever things on a basketball court and even Boris Becker has children coming out of closets. Ian Botham isn't proud of everything he's done and Mike Gatting found barmaids more attractive than the bar snacks. Imran Khan's activities off the field sometimes made more news than those on it. So should we be surprised that Shane Warne seems to bowl more trouble balls than his zooters? Indeed as we drop acceptable standards everywhere, should we be surprised by anything at all?

Theoretically, you would like to believe that the list of deviants in sport should not be statistically dissimilar to any other set of human beings. It probably isn't too different in any case but given the profile the stars have, and the influence they exert on impressionable minds, we would all like them to be cleaner, more acceptable. Maybe that is where we are wrong, in the ideals that we seek to project on those that we admire, we are probably being a bit irrational ourselves.

But then, can sportsmen turn around and say, as they often do, that their lives off the field should be their business and no one else's? As long as they mean having freedom to go and see a movie or drop kids to school or browse into a shopping mall, it is a fair request. But if they mean asking the world to turn a blind eye to perverse behaviour, then I think they want to have the cake and eat it too. If they seek the benefits of fame, they must be able to take the downside of public interrogation. That is the hazard of the business they are in. Surgeons cannot turn up bleary eyed into an operation theatre, chief executives cannot wear shorts to work.

That is why sports bodies must be concerned at the image their sportsmen are projecting. Whether they like it or not, famous people are mimicked, not just at their profession but at everything they do. Just as people will try and copy Shane Warne's action, his accuracy and his flipper they will tell themselves that if he can do what he does and still be successful, so can everyone else. That is where the problem begins and that is why it is critical that sport legislates itself. We cannot stop today's children from becoming tomorrow's deviants but we must ensure that we do all we can to prevent that from happening and if that means policing our stars, so be it.

The Australian Cricket Board is concerned at what their stars are doing, they have a right to, but they must now go beyond that. James Sutherland, their young chief executive, has spoken freely of the adverse reaction they got to the McGrath-Sarwan incident and his words to Steve Waugh after that were strong and appropriate. Now cricket administrators in Australia, and indeed those in other parts of the world, need to do more to ensure that they are not, in their permissiveness, actually helping propagate a cult of bad behaviour. On the field and off it.

It won't be easy. Managing an activity that involves celebrities, the real ones not those that posture like them, requires one to understand the very strange lifestyle they lead. Unlike most people who go to work and come home, and in doing so are governed by family norms, travelling performers are highly strung people who return to empty hotel rooms. Their emotions seek outlets and often, their solitude doesn't permit them that. Thus, they seek outlets and, away from the pressures that cause them to conform, they succumb to the temptations that are perpetually swarming around them.

Being in the limelight makes you a desirable person to all kinds of people. Children seeking autographs, or parents seeking them and claiming that their children want them, is the most visible and least dangerous in this category. There are others, from starlets to chief executives to bookies and all this can have an unsettling effect on young people whose only real skill lies in being able to put bat to ball or swerve ball past bat. And alone as they are, they find it easier to succumb. Once they do so, they seek to rationalise. Is it a sin doing something you shouldn't or, as Warne recently said, is it a sin being seen to have done something?

It is an area that administrators need to talk to young sportsmen about for temptation can come in all forms. Luckily our media hasn't gone to the extent of planting temptations in the lives of sportsmen so that they get the scandal they hope will sell newspapers. But it has happened before, Ian Botham might be able to tell you a few stories about that, and who is to say it will not happen again.

One man's weakness is another man's opportunity and indeed, that is how match-fixing got into cricket in the first place. Shane Warne has shown he has a few and must now live the rest of his cricket career wondering if the man who can stop his progress resides within his own body.

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