Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oscar Pistorius: The exception?

When Adrian Bayley murdered Irish woman Jill Meagher in Melbourne in September 2012, when Ian Huntley murdered two young school girls in Britain, namely Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, in 2002 and when Clive Sharp murdered Catherine Gowing in Wales in October 2012, we did not send well wishes. Why then when a well known sports personality, at the top of his game, kills his young girlfriend, does such a nefarious act prompt messages of well wishes from his fans?
Yes, a sports personality can be someone who develops role model status, who draws in millions of fans, and be chosen for lucrative sponsorship deals – but in the face of criminal activity do we stand by them? Surely not! Two days, after Oscar Pistorius’ killed his girlfriend, his agent Peet Van Zyl detailed the show of support Pistorius was receiving from his global fan base. Support in a time like this is unwarranted. Furthermore, publishing stories that even suggest sponsors are standing by someone who killed their spouse; that this same person will possibly be competing in the World Championships later in the year is unfathomable. It appears the story is not about the death of a 29 year old girl with a life of endless opportunities ahead of her, so unfairly cut short, by the malicious act of one man, no this is the story of a Paralympic athlete who has fallen from grace.
Reeva Skteenkamp’s body was discovered in the home of Pistorius on Valentine’s Day, with four gunshot wounds, she lay in a pool of her own blood. It has been reported that she was shot through the bathroom door from close range. Furthermore, it has been widely reported that a cricket bat is now also a crucial piece of evidence in this murder case. It has been speculated that the bat was used by Pistorius to assault the deceased, or by the deceased to defend herself. Furthermore, it was claimed by a South African newspaper the City Press, that Steenkamp’s skull was partially ‘crushed’.
If there is any veracity in these reports, and if this is the nature of the reports being circulated, why are people empathising with Pistorius? Why are people attempting to rationalise his actions?  Are people, and in particular his fan base, extremely naive, do they not understand the severity of his actions? Why in the face of such a heinous crime, are the media referencing all his merits, and sporting achievements as a Paraolympian, reminding the world of his status in the sporting world?
Those statistics should be deemed redundant in the face of an odious crime. For, they are irrelevant. Surely, quoting his statistics and medal count in a court room will not uphold the name of a killer in the eyes of a jury, nor save him from the prison sentence he rightly deserves. Strip Pistorius of his sports titles, his sports persona, and you are left with an unknown figure, a figure who is accused of killing his girlfriend. If this story was reported as a news report in which an ordinary, unknown South African man killed his girlfriend, the media would be rife with outrage, and the coverage would be given to his unfortunate victim, and a global fan base offering well wishes would be nonexistent, as everyone would see the criminal activity for what it is.
Offering well wishes to a killer at a time like this, is not only insensitive to the family of the deceased, but almost attempts to rationalise his behaviour. We cannot rationalise this behaviour purely because he is a globally renowned Paraolympian. We did not rationalise the actions of Ian Huntley on the basis that at one point in his life he was an excellent school caretaker, no, we did not; and we shan’t do any differently for Pistorius –  Olympic medals do not make you the exception Oscar! 
The Forgotten Irish Graduate, 21st February 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cheating: One definition fits all in Sport?

‘To gain an advantage over or deprive of something by using unfair or deceitful methods; to defraud’
A clear succinct definition of ‘cheating’ offered by the Oxford Dictionary; would a sporting personality offer you the same definition if questioned? Some would say it’s dependent on the sport in question. Should the doping revelations of Lance Armstrong be looked upon with the same severity of other cheats in the sporting arena, a hand ball from Thierry Henry? Most definitely ‘C’est ne pas juste’ especially in the eyes of the Irish, but would we categorize Henry in the same band as Armstrong?
Cheating; it has one meaning, one meaning only, and so should be treated in the same manner across all sports. Cultivating a culture of cheating whether on the soccer field, or rugby pitch by falsely winning a penalty, or by utilizing sports enhancing drugs to increase your chances of a win, undoubtedly demeans sport and, furthermore, it calls into question the credibility of sports people who chose not to engage in any form of cheating. How many young people today who once idealised Lance Armstrong, will feel as passionately about cycling as a sport, as they once did? Has the actions of one man tarnished this sporting activity permanently? When we see an honest sportsman, who excels on the basis of pure talent and gruelling training sessions, do we suspect foul play, possible drug interference? This is the world, a culture of cheating creates – a world of scepticism, where every apparent foul on the soccer pitch on Luis Suarez is a mere rouse for a penalty opportunity, where every cyclist worthy of a Tour De France title must be doping. There is no place for competitive sport in a world laden with doubt and deception.
Yet cheating across a myriad of sports is not assessed in a similar fashion, for example, last year, only 21 drug tests were carried out on professional tennis players, whereas thousands of cyclists were tested for performance enhancing drugs. Some sports stars have spoken out against testing authorities, and the fact that they must be present on a daily basis at a specific hour should they be selected for random drug testing. However, given recent doping revelations, it is now evident, that if the sports community want to stamp out cheating, they cannot decry testing authorities.
The severity of treatment resultant of different forms of cheating is most definitely evident across the sporting world. This is in my eyes unjust. Given the role, sports people play in society, as mentors to those wishing to pursue a career in sports, it is integral that those professionals are ‘cheat free’; from unsavoury tactics on the rugby pitch to the utilisation of performance enhancing drugs. Otherwise the foundations upon which we chose to partake are flawed, the future of competitive sport is threatened, and our future sporting heroes are not heroes at all, but mere cheats in disguise.
To many people, sports are the building blocks for life, built on strong foundations of integrity, sportsmanship, pride. The testing authorities must ensure that every sporting activity is regulated against cheating in the same manner; otherwise, the foundations of sport will ultimately be crushed.
In sport, cheating has one definition, and in terms of the genre of sporting activity, one definition should fit all, but unfortunately for the sporting arena, the definition of cheating in the mentality of sports people isn’t always akin to that of the trusted Oxford dictionary. 
- The Forgotten Irish Graduate, 13th February 2013

26.2 miles later...

The Running Blog, soaring in popularity, from amateurs, professionals, to the launch of The Guardian’s Running Blog last week, I give you my slant... and hopefully, a little motivation to get off that couch!
A running blog: not solely a collection of technique, but a medium for the real life tale. Sometimes it is in the story of the ordinary that we are truly inspired, that story which ultimately ignites that spark of self belief and encourages others to lace up those trainers and pound the pavements.
There’s a runner in all of us, clich├ęd as it may sound.
How do I know?
A former gym bunny with a fondness for the outdoors and a ludicrous notion, that putting one foot in front of the other for 30 minutes a day at your fastest possible speed was a little mundane. I couldn’t see the appeal.  However, the notion that 2 million people were connected through their love of this activity, yet as a sport it was renowned for its solitary disconnection from the world, left me curious. So I began to run; simple as. A daily 7km for fitness purposes I told myself, sure wasn’t that why the other 2 million were running?
Herein lay a depth I did not realise existed in such a sporting activity. I was hooked. The hour I devoted to running on a daily basis cleansed the mind after a notoriously bad day in work, it became my escape. Some days it hurt like hell, but I wanted to run on, for on some level I enjoyed it. The infamous “No pain, no gain” mantra finally resonated with me. I’d rid myself of any lingering anger I may had to deal with whilst my two legs carried me that extra mile. Furthermore, I made my best life changing decisions when out there on the road. It must have been akin to a therapy session I told myself. It was my release from the everyday, from life, and from the world for a mere 60 minutes.
A year later, resultant of an injury sustained whilst out running, was a time out – 3 months exactly. Sheer devastation. I invested in the Dean Karnazes, (The Ultramarathon Man, for which he is better known) autobiography in the interim to ensure my motivation did not wane, for in the back of mind was the ultimate challenge, a burning ambition to take part in a race. Injury healed; registration complete; my first ever running race was to be a marathon. 26.2 miles, aim high I told myself. I downloaded a first timer’s guide to running a marathon, pinned it on my wall, and told myself 4.5 hours was the target. Giving myself 5 months to rebuild my fitness following my injury, and run in a registered race, I was to run the Belfast City Marathon on May 7th 2012.
I would like to say I religiously followed my training regime, but I didn’t. I ran as often as possible, the short distances, to the long distances. In the months leading up to the marathon, Saturday and Sunday mornings were consumed by running. I began to question had running become a chore? Did I still harbour the great love of the pavements I once had, or did I now see it as a ritual all in aid of 26.2 miles? Had the punising running sessions been in vain? No, alas, running still served its function of disconnecting me from reality, an iPhone free world, if only for an hour or two. Bliss.
Two weeks before I undertook my 26.2 mile test I was glued to the coverage of the 2012 London Marathon, the atmosphere of which was infectious; energy from the hoards of people all with the same goal, scampering to the start line was tantalising. Headlines to follow that day included the story of the 101 year old Indian runner, Fauja Singh, who had proven that anything is possible finishing the marathon in a time of 7 hours and 49 minutes. Yet later that day, the headlines were marred with sadness. The news of the death of a young lady, Claire Squires, who had been undertaking the marathon, dominated our screens. For it touched not only the hearts of the UK, but those across the globe, she was one of the 2 million runners in the UK, that non exclusive club, for which we all know someone in. It was a humane story one to which we could all relate too – it could have been any one of our 2 million fellow runners.
A mere 2 weeks later, I ran the Belfast Marathon on May 7th 2012,  in what was to be a culmination of my training to date, an extremely amateur training schedule, my physical ability, but more importantly, my mental strength, which would keep me fighting until I saw that finish line. And it did, I did see that finish line, 3 hours 56 minutes after I crossed the starting line. My first race complete, my first record, and although I raised over £1,000 for a charity of my choice in running the marathon, I realised I wasn’t merely running for them, I was running for myself, and those other 2 million members of that unofficial running club, that anyone of us from any corner of the globe could be part of.
 Those 3 hours 56 minutes were torturous yet exhilarating, fraught with emotion, but far from solitary, as one by one, those lining the streets of Belfast City were united by one common goal, quite simply, to run.
I once asked a keen runner if 26.2 miles as first race was an ambitious target to set for one self, to which they replied ‘Do it, and decide then’.
I did. Turns out 26.2 miles isn’t all that ambitious, and what’s more, you’ll find your fellow runners and supporters on the day will be the ones to carry you across that finish line, albeit a little bit of training in the build up to the big day can be somewhat beneficial. 
Happy Running guys! 
The Forgotten Irish Graduate, 13th Feb 2013