Pity for young sports stars?

2008-03-08 00:00

Pity the besieged young sports stars of today. Reporters and cameras seem to follow them wherever they go when all they want to be are normal young men having a bit of normal fun.

Pity poor Danny Cipriani, the 20-year-old next big hero of English rugby. He should have been making his international debut in the Calcutta Cup match against Scotland in Edinburgh today; instead, he will be sitting at home, watching the game on television, because he was thrown out of the squad after being photographed leaving a London nightclub in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Coach Brian Ashton, a former headmaster, took one look at the picture in the tabloid newspaper, decided it was time to impose some discipline and sent the errant talent home.

“It’s not fair,” protested a friend. “Danny only went to the nightclub to drop off some tickets for a friend. He parked his car outside the front door, he didn’t have a single drink and he was inside for no more than 10 minutes. What’s the problem? He’s a normal guy.”

Pity the poor players of Manchester United. Last December, they only wanted to have a normal Christmas party like any normal group of normal young men would normally be expected to do.

They started with a lunchtime session at a casino before moving on to more beers and a bit of raucous karaoke at a pub, where a bystander filmed part of the action on their cellphone and posted the video on the Internet (if you’re curious, type “Manchester United Christmas” into the search engine at www.youtube.com).

They then headed for a hotel, which had been closed for the night so the footballers could invite 120 of their very closest friends to join the celebrations. These guests included hordes of attractive young shop assistants who had been, to borrow the players’ terminology, “harvested” from upmarket department stores and brought in to join the normal hosts at their normal party.

The scenes that followed have probably not been described as “normal” since the Emperor Tiberius held court on the island of Capri. It amounted to an uninhibited orgy of alcohol and sex, which left a teenage girl reflecting wearily upon having had sex with five men, three of whom she recognised as players, and another 26-year-old woman frantically telephoning the police to claim she had been raped by United reserve team defender Johnny Evans.

According to reports, the bash had been the brainchild of England defender Rio Ferdinand and the bill was paid by the players, each of whom agreed to chip in around R60 000.

Coach Sir Alex Ferguson, who has never been a headmaster but might have been a great one, took one look at the lurid reports in the tabloid newspapers, unleashed his famous hairdryer temper and imposed fines totalling more than R15 million on his players.

“It’s not fair,” complained friends. “They were just a bunch of normal guys having a good time. Nobody was forced to go to the party, and most of the girls had a great time.”

Pity poor Cristiano Ronaldo, not just because he happened to miss the Christmas party because he was obliged to attend the Fifa Player of the Year function on the same night, but also because he has been branded a playboy just because he flew to Rome after an FA Cup victory over Aston Villa and spent the night with a friend and two lap dancers.

“So what?” his friend remonstrated. “Ronny was back in Manchester for training at 10 o’clock the next morning.”

Poor Ronny. It could have been worse, as poor Cipriani knows all too well. Readers of the News of the World remember how it was the same hapless young rugby star who spent a night last November romping in “at least three positions” with a model called Larissa. That seemed like a perfectly normal thing to do, at least until the newspaper gleefully revealed Larissa was a transsexual who had started life as a man called Darren Pratt.

On second thoughts, don’t waste your pity on these overpaid young fools. Just laugh.

•Edward Griffiths is an author journalist and former CEO of SA Rugby. ww.onesmallvoice.co.za.

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