As we may have hinted at previously, 51allout is not much taken in by sports other than cricket, and tends to view them with all the skepticism of a kindergarten teacher presented with a toddler covered with his own filth while being told by a doting parent that “he really is special though”. We are just not all that inclined to believe in the merits of any sport that doesn’t feature the likes of Steve Smith or Jesse Ryder. However, for all of this, we cannot deny having been somewhat taken in a little by all of this Olympics related malarkey on recently, and with the football season just around the corner, whispers have been heard from the office plastics that they couldn’t care less how well ManU goes this season.
Personally we are a little cynical of just how big a backlash Olympic success will have on the levels of support for more traditional sporting pursuits. We all surely remember the hype that surrounded cricket after the 2005 Ashes, which dissipated about as quickly as it emerged, leaving long term fans scratching their heads over the priorities of your typical fickle sports fan. Most fans are into their sport for the long haul, usually the result of having been surrounded by it from a young age, and are therefore not all that inclined to simply drop it by the way side as soon as something bigger and shinier comes along. So you will have to excuse our cynicism if public interest in the fortunes of Sir Alex Ferguson and his merry band of vastly over-enumerated men is no lower come October than it was this time last year.
However the always contentious question of footballers pay brings to attention the other major issue to emerge out of the Olympics, namely that the vast majority of the athletes involved manage to successfully pursue sporting careers whilst somehow eeking out an existence on less than 40,000 pounds a week, and yet you don’t seem to see them in the papers every day, whinging about how they deserve more money, or just generally behaving like utter twats. It seems that English sport fans have realized for the first time that their sporting heroes don’t necessarily have to be complete dickheads as well.
All of which brings us nicely around to the question of Kevin Pietersen. KP’s belated audition for the Team GB Gymnastics squad with the most perfectly executed backflip in history will have done little to allay concerns over whether or not a player with such a ‘colorful’ personality is well suited to not only the English dressing room, but more generally as a role model. The video interview that Pietersen gave yesterday said all of the right things, but it was still utterly self-centered. Pietersen’s greatest concern is for himself and his legacy, as evidenced by his claim that “I’ve realised I can be happy. I’ve realised how much I love playing for England.” The question is not one of what is best for the England cricket team, but what is best for Pietersen himself, who somehow seems to believe that as long as he is happy and the spectators are being entertained then all is right in the world.
Of course, as far as the English cricket team is concerned, all is definitely not right in the world. Losing five of your last ten Test matches, making bowling out the West Indian tail look like the toughest assignment in world cricket, and now on the verge of relinquishing their number one Test ranking on home turf, indicates that some very serious issues exist within the squad. Whether or not Kevin Pietersen’s attitude is the biggest problem or if he is just being made a convenient scapegoat is for the selectors and support staff to figure out.
The wider problem however, is how much longer the public is prepared to put up with Pietersen’s self-serving histrionics. There is no question about his qualities as a cricketer; he is easily one of the best batsmen in the world right now, and his innings at Headingley just serves as further evidence that he is indeed one of the players who fans love to see play. The real question, though, is if fans are prepared to put up with the luggage that seemingly comes along with being Kevin Pietersen. The examples provided by their Olympics team, from Mo Farah, to those lovely chaps who medalled in the Triathlon, show that success can seemingly occur divorced from self-aggrandizement.
Cricket hardly need feel threatened from the challenge that a successful Olympics provides. The Sydney Olympics in 2000 show that a successful games does not necessarily lead to a massive spike in participation in athletics or synchronised swimming. Once the hype has subsided Olympic sports will once again recede back into relative obscurity. The influence of the athletes themselves, however, will remain. Whilst the bad news stories will inevitably begin to emerge, the Olympics have provided a shining example of how success and humility are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Perhaps it is time that English sporting teams follow the example of some Australian outfits and introduce a ‘no dickheads’ policy. Granted Australian teams are more in need of such an approach than most, but given the current popular sentiment in England, it’s one that would be doubtlessly well received.