Monday, 20 February 2012
This weekend's somewhat theatrical spat between boxers Dereck Chisora and David Haye has left me disappointed, not because two heavyweights have brought a sport I love into further disrepute but because the pair of them are so unrepresentative of boxing in Britain. Their fight was an undisciplined brawl driven by malice and arrogance, two characteristics thankfully absent from much of the sport.
The point was brought home to boxing fans who watched Channel 5's coverage of two very different fights on Saturday night. In the first Sheffield's Kid Galahad took on Jason Booth, in the second Chris Eubank Jnr took on Jason Ball. Both fights were the epitome of sportsmanship. All four athletes congratulated each other at the conclusion. Jason Booth's post-fight interview was an effusive tribute to his younger opponent's skill and potential. As they sat beside each other at the ringside each complimented the other on their performances, admitted their own failings and pointed out each others' strengths.
The same point would not have been brought home to non boxing fans. It was entirely absent from the general news. The Sheffield Star ran about 500 words on it.
The Haye/Chisora spat, however, has had a little bit more coverage.
Beginning as it did with an unsportsmanlike jibe about a broken toe and ending in the kind of scene which makes anyone who loves the sport groan at the impending barrage of abuse they'll get from people who like to portray boxing as the preserve of the brutish Neanderthal.
I have some sympathy for Haye, having fractured both big toes in the past. Those who assume that boxing is simply a case of standing in a ring and hitting someone tend to ignore (Wilfully or otherwise) the skill required to deliver a punch and get out of the way of the inevitable retaliation.
Those who have never boxed or watched boxing may not be aware that an effective punch is the product, not just of the arms but of the whole body. You turn in your toe, lift your heel, twist from the waist and extend the arm. 36 minutes of that on a broken toe is going to reduce your performance somewhat. Critics of Haye may say ballet dancers regularly perform on worse, to which I would counter that whilst their tortured feet are engaged in the precision exercise of an enchanting pirouette they are not generally doing so in the anticipation of a punch in the face by 15 stone of sweat and adrenaline soaked athlete.
It's another story that's seldom told. It's complicated you see, and requires you to see something you've already made your mind up about in a different light.
That having been said I have no sympathy for either Haye or Chisora over this affair. I would be more than happy to see both stripped of their licenses with immediate effect. The coverage of their scandalous behaviour and lamentable loss of self control should serve as a warning to others that being a prat in public has consequences. Young boxers, of whom I know a few, would be less likely to repeat the same posturing and theatrics as a result.
The problem is (and I should know), the media has an appetite for scandal because the public has an appetite for scandal. We love something novel and tire of the humdrum easily. The Haye Vs Chisora spat was a godsend on a quiet Sunday. The other big card of the weekend between Booth and Gallahad was similarly exemplary but not nearly so likely to make headlines. For the same reason you never heard the headlines "Lembit Opik in excellent constituency MP shocker" or "John Prescott effectively negotiates trade dispute resolution" or "William Hague's effective diplomacy in Somalia revealed". All three stories are true. Sadly we too easily mistake criticism for scrutiny and praise for partisanship.
What you see on the news is there precisely because it is exceptional. This week a thirteen year old girl was stabbed to death in a park in Doncaster. The headline was not "50th stabbing of a teenager in Doncaster this week", nor even the second. Those headlines were never written because neither is true. The story is terribly sad and I feel for her parents. It was however an appalling but isolated incident. That, sadly, will not stop the armchair pundits from using Casey-Lyanne Kearney's death as evidence that it's not safe to walk the streets. I'm sure an article has already been written concerning the evidence her death presents of a growing knife crime culture amongst teenagers, despite the fact her alleged attacker is 26. Had the tragic circumstances that lead to her death not unfolded as they did, I suspect the national media would not be running "13 year old girl walks home alone safely".
All of this leads to a plea on my part: Before you assume the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, that one example implies an epidemic or that all boxers and boxing fans are thugs, consider why events make the news. It is usually those things which depart from the norm.