Football: not the only game in town

2014-06-21 00:00

IT is difficult for anyone not living in England to comprehend just how much the Fifa World Cup dominates all other sports. June is the northern summer’s month of major events in golf, tennis, cricket, horse racing and a host of other sporting showpieces that are scheduled to catch the attention of the masses before the general evacuation of the summer holidays.

Every four years, however, the football giant enters the stage to command acres of newsprint and uncountable hours of electronic coverage to the detriment of those sports that regard June as their own brief playtime normally freed up by the hibernating monster.

It is ironic that London’s Sunday Times offers more coverage of the football World Cup than any other newspaper, yet is waging a weekly battle against the mafia of Fifa who are accused of widespread corruption in the matter of granting the rights to stage the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Every weekend the flagship of Rupert Murdoch’s British print interests is drip-feeding a relentless campaign against soccer’s bosses with the purpose of unseating Sepp Blatter and achieving a re-vote on the rights to stage the 2022 World Cup.

There are many people who are so fed up with the endless stories of wrong doing within Fifa that they would rather have it embarrassingly exposed by the cock-up of actually holding the World Cup in a country that has nothing going for it other than oceans of oil money and searing summer heat. There is also a view that the holding of the World Cup is no bargain for any country not already in possession of the facilities necessary to accommodate such a large and lengthy event.

In addition, the average man in the street finds it unacceptable that the unsavory executives of Fifa have been able to demand and receive the sort of courtesies from host countries that would be regarded as outrageous if requested by the queen of England.

These opinions are gaining currency in many countries and have found expression in Brazil where the authorities have been ruthless in dealing with any dissidents who seek to disrupt the current “greatest show on earth”.

The 2018 football World Cup is due to be held in a Russia that has a lot of work to do to burnish its image as a tourist-friendly country following its Ukraine “expansion”.

Prince Charles has been criticised for his comparison of Putin with Hitler but most people here are sympathetic to his comments about the Russian president. One wonders if Charles, who could be his country’s monarch by then, will be on the guest list for the 2018 event and, if he is, whether he will accept.

My guess is that he may decline in favour of Ascot and the other attractions of the London season.

Notwithstanding the football World Cup, the biggest story of last Sunday was golf’s U.S. Open which Martin Kaymer, the classy German, won going away. Yet Kaymer’s brilliant golf was not the main story from Pinehurst. That belonged to the double heart transplant patient Erik Compton, who finished second.

At the age of 12 just following his first transplant, Compton scarcely resembled someone who would one day contend on the final afternoon of the U.S. Open. Swollen with steroids to combat the rejection of his new heart, he looked like the poor boy who is always chosen last in any pick-up team. Then golf was the only game he could play from a cart but it changed his life. It gave him the motivation to play sport on terms with other kids and, more importantly, get fit. Astoundingly, he soon found that he was good enough at golf to consider making it his career.

He attended the University of Georgia from where he was chosen to play for the U.S. Walker Cup team. After graduation in 2001 he turned professional whence he spent many years on the minor tours of golf. He dominated the Canadian tour in 2004 where he won twice as well as heading up the order of merit. In that year he also won the King Hassan trophy in Morocco but these early years as a professional were mainly a struggle to survive.

In 2008 he recognised the symptoms of a heart attack and drove himself to hospital where it was found that his second heart was failing. He phoned his mother to say goodbye. He told her “Mom, I’m not going to make it”. The doctors pounded his chest long enough to save him and, miraculously, another heart was found.

He returned to professional golf and eventually made it onto the PGA tour in 2012. He failed to make enough money to save his playing card and returned to the nightmare of qualifying school where he did well enough to return to the PGA tour in 2013. In the year of his second transplant, Compton won just $10 000 (R107 000) but last Sunday he made $789 330 (R8,5 million); some treasure, some inspiration.

Almost lost amidst the World Cup fever was the remarkable finish to the Lord’s Test match where Sri Lanka all but contrived to lose to an average England team. That they did not was due in the end to the decision review system that saved their last batsman off the penultimate ball of the match.

It beggars belief that the Indians, who are due in England later this summer, still refuse to play under the DRS and have enough power to have their way wherever they play.

Oh, for the days when cricket was run from Lord’s rather than Delhi!

One feels that the time is ripe for some industrial action by the umpires. If they colluded to give the benefit of all 50/50 decisions to India’s opponents, they would soon bring the Indians to heel.

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