Articles / Cycling / Formula 1

Occupational hazard

noun

  1. An unpleasant, inconvenient, or unusual circumstance which occurs or is likely to occur during the course of one’s employment.

example

What is it about sport that fascinates millions of minds? What makes us (myself included) get as emotionally involved in other people’s lives as in our own private one? Obviously we’re all different and there are many ways of experiencing our passion for sports, but we all like to define ourselves as ’fans’.

If you don’t, there’s not much point in continuing to read this but I also suspect you might be a character as fictional as Harry Potter or Peter Parker, because sport is so present in our lives we’re bound to involuntarily find some sort of competition that we enjoy. As testament to that are the increased audiences (of various demographic characteristics) observed during and after every Olympic event. But that’s a story for another time. Back to the point I was trying to make, our appreciation of sports comes with an emotional involvement that makes us biased towards a certain team or player. Yes, you can enjoy football or motorsport just for what it is, an exciting competition, but it’s statistically improbable to be 100% impartial in your support.  As humans, we’re taught to form opinions and preferences for all aspects of our lives, from breakfast cereal and TV shows to the company we keep and the people we marry. We constantly evaluate the significance of events or persons that show up on our radar and we filter them by how much they reflect our own personal values. The same goes for the people we admire; we form a preference on which we build an image of those people (that proves to be more or less accurate), but in the end they’re just strangers trying to do their job regardless of what we think about them.

Every sport has its Achilles’ heel, that thing you can pick on to justify your dislike or criticism. Cycling has doping, snooker has gambling and Formula 1 has… well, quite a few. Besides all the drama, the show and the media coverage of every little detail of their on and off-track/table/road lives, we tend to forget that sportsmen are just people doing their jobs; doing it as best as they can, for the best money they can get.  [True, you could claim that TV revenue is a large part of every sport’s budget and indirectly we should have a say in how they’re run and what kind of show we’re offered. Does that mean we should also expect the TV channels we pay for to only show the news we like? As fun as a Hello Kitty Channel sounds, I’m not sure it’s feasible or profitable to always listen to your client, sometimes he doesn’t know best]. One point we seem to miss is that besides all the attention they get, all athletes do their jobs for themselves and their own interests, not anyone else’s. After all, isn’t that what we’re all trying to do, albeit with less glamour and recording devices around us? They just happen to be on TV during work hours.

But what most of us don’t get is millions of people judging us. When was the last time a stranger stopped you on the street to boo or accuse you? Yes, make a mistake and your boss will criticize your work, you’ll learn from it (hopefully) and move on (or get fired, if you manage a nuclear power plant or something like that).  Athletes don’t get that, instead they get questioned, accused, stalked and booed (yes, football and Formula 1, I’m looking at you) not only for their actions but also their personalities. You can call it an occupational hazard. Whether you’re friendly and good-looking or anti-social and impolite, the sin is the same. We’re allowed to be selfish and we’re allowed to be arrogant, not the most endearing of qualities but we should only condemn (and be condemned) for our incorrect behaviour and not get our character or value as persons questioned. But I should get on with my point before my psychological background kicks off in full swing.

Maradona, Armstrong and even this Stephen Lee bonanza are stories to be told and retold without anybody really knowing the entire truth but them. They all did what they considered best for themselves, disregarding social and professional rules of conduct and indirectly affecting the lives and careers of those around them. But in the end they’re just people who made several choices that were bound to be disapproved and condemned. They don’t characterize their entire lives, their sport and they don’t give us the right to generalize and judge.

Discussing the morality of doping or gambling is not something I want to achieve here but the aftermath and legacy of those deeds it more significant. I don’t want to watch a sport where all the headlines are along the lines of ‘Chris Froome must be doping’, ’Red Bull must be cheating’ or ‘Did he/they just throw the match away?’. There’s a possibility they’re right and they also might be wrong. Questions and theories are not proof, and as long as lying is still a choice, people will make use of it. Considering all this there’s really just one question I want to ask myself:

‘Is it worth wasting this time questioning the genuineness of the performance I’m witnessing instead of just enjoying it?  Aren’t there plenty of people whose job is to doubt it so I don’t have to do it?’ (OK, maybe it’s two questions).

It could take ten or twenty years to prove I was wrong to trust it and I’ll feel somehow betrayed at that point, but it can’t take away the pleasure with which I witnessed it in the first place. I’ll learn a lesson and I’ll lose an idol but I’ll still trust the next one until I’m proven wrong again. I’d choose this over being suspicious for many years only to realize I lost something truly great.  Because it’s about that passion, that enjoyment and those values the sport carries for me and less about the characters involved in it at any given time.

Up until now it was a story about mistakes, but what about Sebastian and the boos? Well that I would simply call stupid. I don’t know if “May the best man win” is some sort of official principle of sport or just something that some terribly polite gentleman once said to avoid a fight, but I think it applies quite nicely. Sebastian is a person with a very public job and he happens to do it very well, significantly better than others. In school you’d call him a geek, at work you’d call him entitled, but you know deep down he’s the one the teachers like, the one your boss will promote and the one who will be more successful than you. In sport you call him a future legend. You appreciate him or at least acknowledge his achievements. If you can’t do that you’re not what a fan should be (or in more extreme cases, wish him anything less than a safe race and you might be just a slightly evolved cave man with a deviant passion and internet access). We claim to be rational, sophisticated and knowledgeable but the lack of respect is striking at times.

Do we blame Steve Jobs for being brilliant, for taking an opportunity and being the best in his field? If so, I’m dying to hear your arguments but if not, why should we judge others by different standards? If it’s about neck-to-neck competition, may I turn your attention to the other 21 cars serving us the best show possible? In this regard I guess it’s good that Formula One is not an Olympic sport because “it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts” is a highly disregarded attitude.

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