While the world’s media has always been hot on the heels of sporting high-flyers, recent frenzy around the tragic events unfolding in South Africa, gave a whole new meaning to the expression ‘ court of public opinion.’
Before Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend, I was only remotely aware of him and his outstanding achievements. The morning I saw the story on the front page of my local paper, sea of sadness at the terrible tragedy washed over me. Since than hardly day goes by without hearing about it on every news media conceivable. Facts and speculations, theories and opinions. Despite such extensive coverage, not for a moment did I think to know the facts. Not only because of obvious sensationalism, but because every such case is complex, and multi-layered. All I know is what has been reported and aired. Beautiful young woman dead by hand of her sporting celebrity boyfriend. Heartbreaking in every sense.
While Oscar’s story is the most tragic, it is also the last one in what is shaping into a long list of recent sporting scandals. Scandals in which sporting high achievers, public first made into, and then proceeded to treat in a god-come-celebrity fashion, fall from favor with such speed and force that makes their landings fatal.
Think Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, the revelations emerging from the ‘Operation Puerto trial’ in Spain, and the disappointing picture the Australian Crime Commission investigation into organised crime and drugs recently painted, prompting the Wada director general to admit the problem is ‘getting too big for sport to manage’. It has been reported that doping in sport is now worse than ever, and a new trans-national body is necessary to combat wide-ranging corruption according to Wada.
There is no doubt that performance enactment through acceptable, as well as, non-acceptable means has always been part of top sporting professionals. However, the recent upsurge in illegal activities and what seems strong and well-established links between organized crime and professional sport, suggests something else might be at play.
Ever since Romans found out that the best way to entertain masses is to offer them organized games, we have been mesmerized by those of us who are capable of achieving outstanding results in sports. It is not difficult to see why that is; in the world where razor-sharp inequalities divide us, sport is the ultimate leveler. Bare-footed African kid with equal measures of talent, passion and perseverance can and will outrun his counterparts from far richer parts of the globe.
When outstanding achievements are accomplish against impossible odds, as Oscar Pistorius did, god-like status is bestowed on such achievers; they are loved, admired and worshiped accordingly. Their riches and fame compare only with those who are public darlings as queens and kings of show-business. And, as we all know – there is no business, like a show-business!
But the top sports people are not show-business stars. To achieve those outstanding results that made them into celebrities, they dedicated their lives to daily, grueling training’s, not to mention specialized diets and many other scientifically developed and carefully balanced measures they must scrupulously follow every day. And all that in order to remain on top of their games and compete in fiercely competitive fields where milliseconds can make or break careers and where stakes are ever higher.
And while all that sounds punishing enough, it is only a part, and it seems not even the biggest part, of their story. Because it is no longer sufficient to achieve on the sporting grounds. Those achievements are almost assumed and once accomplished, living up to the status public bestowed upon them is required; enter world media, paparazzi, social-media, spin-doctors and alike.
Is it just me being a little bit soft or motherly sentimental in my dotage, or is it really that hard to imagine the enormous pressure that they must be under ever hour of every day? How long until even the strongest ‘snap’ and start looking for any kind of relief? Organized drug peddlers enter here. Others let their steam off in fast cars, arms of ever-present beautiful women, drunken parties, deadly weapons … there is hardly an end to the offerings.
And all so that the show continuous to go on .
On the second page of the same paper that brought the story of Oscar Pistorius, there was a story of a 15 years old golfing star; Korean born, NZ citizen Lydia Ko. Along side a long list of her many achievements in golf, made all the more special by her tender young age, the reporter wrote how Lydia does not go out with friends, or has time for anything else but golf; ‘golf is her life’. The last line in the article reads: ‘No pressure, Lydia but we look forward to following your progress with pride.’
I do not know first thing about golf. But I do wish Lydia all the best. Especially a set of caring parents.