Delusional role-model routine just another breathless wheeze
Once athletes leave the playing field, they are no different to anyone else. Setting them up to be something they are not invites disappointment
Just because Paul O’Connell can bench-press a Toyota Corolla doesn’t mean he has any role in raising your kids. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Maybe it’s a CAO cock-up but there doesn’t appear to be a form where one can sign up for role-model school, which is surprising because demand for role models appears to be exceeded only by a supply of people who feel themselves entitled to such a job description.
How does one break into this closed shop? ’Cos I got a lot to offer. If there’s modelling required in biliousness or weight gain, then call off the dogs right now. Let me in, and gimme a grant while you’re at it, which I promise I won’t take to any lap-dancing dive, honest.
Getting your lap sanded is apparently a financial line in the sand, or at least it was for one day last week when UK Sport threatened to cut off funding for any athlete that might be tempted to push their grant down a gyrating G-string. Not appropriate behaviour for sporting role models, don’t you know; both sexes though, so, right on, right?
Well, no. Within hours, the stupidity of cutting off funding on the basis of what athletes might choose to do in their spare time was so obvious, even some of Britain’s finest bureaucratic arse-coverers couldn’t stand over it.
No doubt some expensive legal suit pointed out to them that a system of judging people’s behaviour is already in place and it’s called the law. And punishing people for their leisure pursuits, no matter how iffy they might be, might result in hefty compensatory payouts if said iffiness is perfectly legal.
But it was a reminder that while the law is fine for us ordinary proles, sporting figures continue to be held to a much higher account. There might not be a dotted line to sign on, but there is an unwritten rule that because someone might be excellent at kicking a ball, or running quickly, or riding a horse, their private life should, preferably, also be a paradigm of modest virtue and lip-quivering nobility.
Moreover, what’s remarkable is that so many not only tolerate this expectation but embrace it.
How many times have you heard prominent sports figures acknowledge their responsibility as role-models? And with a straight face too, like this heavy load has been imposed on them by some demanding God of probity possessed of impeccable character judgment. The sane acknowledgement that being responsible for one’s life is challenge enough seems to get lost in the fog of self-regard that goes into believing you are worthy of being an example to everyone else also.
And it’s not even their fault all the time. The public buys into the role-model thing big time. And because we do, so does government, in their own tacit admission that the idea of anyone in a position of actual power behaving in a reasonable, and intelligent manner is off the radar.