Saturday, 8 January 2011

Give us a sporting chance

Yesterday, as England awoke to bask in the glory of her most significant sporting achievement of recent years, I wandered into town to pick up a new grip for my squash racquet.

But this seemingly simple task was to prove surprisingly complicated. Replacement grips, if you were unaware, consist of a small roll of padded, specially-coated tape which are generic to all kinds of racquet: tennis; squash; badminton; protection etc. It's a staple item for a great number of people who, like me, enjoy taking out their frustrations on spherical projectiles. 

But I couldn't find one. Not easily, anyway.

Range Rover attire
In fact, it was only upon patronising a third establishment that I found anything more satisfactory than the most cursory selections of 'real' sporting equipment, engulfed, nevertheless, by the true fare of modern sports shops - the synthetic tsunami of trainers, tracksuits and trinkets. Items less likely to realise any sporting purpose than 95 percent of Range Rovers are of attempting anything more daring than a school run in moderate traffic.

We love sport as a nation. With an average attendance of nearly 35,000 per game in 2009-10, Premiership football beats La Liga and Serie A hands down. A friend who was lucky enough to attend the final Ashes test at the Sydney Cricket Ground this week said that the Barmy Army, English cricket's good-humoured supporter group, had made sufficient noise to make it seem like a home game... and we all know that if we'd been given the chance to host the 2018 World Cup, it would have been brilliant. (Bloody FIFA!)

Barmy in the pink
But the current infrastructure gets it all wrong. Rather than sporting popularity providing the catalyst to inspire a new generation of Andrew Strausses, James Andersons and David Beckhams, the power is instead in the hands of Chief Executives and media tycoons whose concern is with cashing in on the here-and-now by means of swollen ticket prices, extortionate merchandise and premium TV deals. (I enjoyed a recent advertisement which paradoxically described Sky's new Atlantic Channel as 'free'... to all subscribers!)

This is probably the reasoning behind the fact that - as I eventually located a racquet grip behind a rail of orange hoodies - I could also have bought a £50 replica shirt for any one of the 20 Premiership football teams, but none of an assortment of stereotypically acne-ridden shop assistants looked like they would have had too much clue if I'd asked them to fit me for a pair of boots or provide  information on the modest selection of cricket bats.

And the bottom line is: without me, what chance do England have!?

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