“I can’t think of anyone who deserves [a knighthood] more.” So lauded David Cameron back in July. However, the Prime Minister was not referring to the leader of a food bank or a charity, but to Andy Murray, Wimbledon champion and toast of Great Britain. The claim is, clearly, ludicrous. Even forgetting the fact that our current Honours system has been thoroughly devalued, to suggest that Murray is the most worthy recipient of “one of the highest honours an individual in the United Kingdom can achieve” is ridiculous. Murray himself admitted this: “It’s a nice thing to have or be offered but I don’t know if it merits that.”
Of course, Murray is a supremely talented tennis player, and even more importantly an embodiment of the hard-work and dedication everyone should strive for, no matter what field they are in.
But more worthy than the teachers, nurses, or firemen we hear so much of when politicians want sympathy for a policy? Surely not.
Then again, it is highly doubtful as to whether Cameron himself truly believes in the legitimacy of his statement. His real reason for the claim is that sport is the perfect apolitical arena for politicians to draw attention away from everything they do not want to be discussed. A national sporting triumph diverts newspaper editors from “proper” news, without the politicians themselves even having to try.
In this, though, the role of newspapers is the least of the problem. At least then, sporting coverage is confined (usually) to the back pages. A greater problem is sport’s overbloated role in the public’s hearts, a role eagerly encouraged by the business community, desperate to ensure that the steady stream of revenue from sports merchandise and advertising continues to flow. Our addiction to sensationalist reinterpretations of sport, and our willingness to suspend our morality for the sake of our chosen team (see Liverpool fans’ response to Luiz Suarez’s racism, for example) has given leaders free reign to avoid proper democratic scrutiny by hiding behind blanket sports coverage. After all, it’s far easier to forget that there are 3.6 million children living in poverty in the UK when you have access to 24-hour sports news.
The tragedy of this is that sport has so much potential to harness society and to rebuild community bonds. The Olympics offered us both sides of sport: the corporate arrogance, yet also groups of people coming together to improve themselves and their communities. There is no reason why Murray’s success cannot be used in the same way, by encouraging grassroots schemes to boost youth participation, and by using this incredibly dedicated Briton as an example of what hard work and focus can bring.
Instead, however, things will probably go on as before. Murray will be awarded a knighthood, probably be awarded Sports Personality of the Year, and we can all use his triumph to forget that Sport England has had its funding cut by 33% over four years, at who knows what cost to the future generation of Murrays.
That sport is not the be all and end all may sound odd coming from a sports editor, but it should not. Sport has its place in a society, but we all must ensure that it does not exceed its directive. Everyone needs a distraction, a means of leaving their problems behind for a while, but that distraction must never become more important than the issues that we should be debating. Put sport in its perspective, and our society will be all the better for it.