Honour can be a rare attribute in this modern age of sport. We think of it as decency, doing the right thing, conceding a little ground, or craving glory with the approval of those around you. Dr Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary defined it as: “Nobility of the soul, magnanimity, and a scorn of meanness.”
There are numerous examples of conduct which is the opposite of this: the 1983 boxing match between Lewis Resto and Billy Collins Jr in which trainer, Panama Lewis removed most of the padding from Resto’s gloves and soaked his hand tape in plaster of Paris (the brutal, Panda-like image of Collins Jr after the fight still shocks one to the core); Diego Maradona’s ‘hand of God’ in the 1986 World Cup quarter final between England and Argentina which needs little elaboration; Rosie Ruiz’s 1980 Boston Marathon ‘win’ (it later transpired that she had “jumped out of the crowd close to the finish line” complete with mock sweat and a face of agony).
The incident I most remember was during the 1990 World Cup when Dutchman, Frank Rijkaard spat at German, Rudi Voller – not once, but twice. It was a despicable act by any measure. Eight years later he would manage the national side. Such ‘reward’ symbolises the inherent unfairness and apparent lack of reckoning in sport. The old adage ‘what goes around comes around’ seems to have lost its wings.
With this in mind, I stumbled upon a redemptive tale in Bolton Table Tennis’s Division Three. Hilton ‘K’ – having finished 2nd and being entitled to promotion – decided to send only half their squad into Division Two. This was to enable coach and no.4 player, Brian Young to further progress 58% man, Mathew Fishwick into the 75% bracket before the harsh winds of Division Two kicked in.
After numerous shuffling of squads, this left a promotion slot open to the team in 3rd, Walkden Meths. Approached by the league’s general secretary, they went away to think about it. The eventual response from players, Richard Whittleworth, Steve Kelsall and Neil Unsworth was effectively ‘No, ta.’ They would rather feel the thrill of promotion for real without any hand outs. “We usually finish in the bottom four. This season was a blip. We’re blokes in our fifties who aren’t supposed to improve.”
Do you applaud such words or laugh? Follow them with intrigue in 2013/14, I would say.
By Jeff Weston