Heroes and Villains

This week’s World Championships reminded me of Sean Connery tied to the table in Goldfinger. The film’s charismatic villain swaggering before a hopeless Bond, detailing his plans for world domination before he finally manages to dispose of the pesky secret agent. Goldfinger takes his time, chats cordially to Bond and then leaves our sweetheart to be eaten up by the laser beam.

But then, with the end in sight, there’s a stumble.

And just as Goldfinger was thwarted by Bond with just seconds remaining, so Usain Bolt steps up to deliver on the biggest stage, as we always knew he would. He snatched victory from underneath Justin Gatlin’s running spikes.

Gatlin seems to have embraced his role as villain just as readily as Bolt has hero, with his agent claiming after the 100m final that ‘only Gatlin beat Gatlin’.

But that disregards the greatest sprinter ever, the six-time Olympic Gold Medal winner, and the hero of our sport: Usain Bolt. Gatlin was beaten by the sustained supremacy of Bolt over the last seven years. As Michael Johnson has since said, Justin Gatlin needs to show signs of contrition before he can be considered as anything other than a villain, a foil for the heroes of the sport to thrash it out against.

Meanwhile, Andy Murray has been reassigned the role of Daniel Craig’s Bond; a gritty and more reluctant hero. He’s forced into the position of tennis’s ‘saviour’ as he faces Nick Kyrgios in the first round of the US Open.

Just as Hollywood constructs these diametric oppositions between good and evil, so it is not just a coincidence that many of sports biggest rivalries are characterised in such black and white terms.

Sean Connery wasn't always keen on being the hero, just as Bolt has expressed reservations about his portrayal in the media.

Sean Connery wasn’t always keen on being the hero, just as Bolt has expressed reservations about his portrayal in the media.

Goldfinger wasn’t saving the world, but he was the focal point of the film. Kyrgios and Gatlin are never going to struggle to draw a crowd, they are the ones you don’t want to miss. As long as the good guy wins, it’s ok to have a couple of baddies isn’t it?

British Tennis still needs more drive

We’re lucky to have new facilities – now we need the drive to get people playing on them

Over 17 million people watched Andy Murray break the 77 year Wimbledon deadlock in 2013. The BBC subsequently provided its most expansive coverage to date in 2014, with over 150 hours of TV time dedicated to the Championships.

And yet this gives the Lawn Tennis Association even more reason to be scratching their heads. Why is it that only 406,000 of those that watched Murray romp to victory pick up a racket and play tennis at least once a week?

Perhaps more importantly, why is this figure in decline?

Interest in the sport has hit a peak and we need to act fast to harness the power of youngsters’ imaginations. We have the interest; we now need to facilitate potential player’s desires because they won’t wait around. Football, cricket, golf, even cycling are providing a greater impetus for participation.

Although far from an expert, I did manage to establish a club and coaching programme on public courts in 2010. The support of the local authority and public figures was very encouraging. The only thing that was lacking was a cohesive regional plan.

Every tennis club, school, sports facility could benefit from collaboration. We – as a small coaching group – could work with the school to provide tennis as an alternative to the traditional football and cricket combination which still dominates most PE teacher’s curriculums.

From there, we could feed into the local tennis centre, with a larger coaching infrastructure and – if you’re lucky – indoor courts. We’ve had several children go onto play at the local centre, but it was on their own initiative.

Owen Gibson wrote for The Guardian that ‘it won’t be changing one thing that transforms tennis in this country but marginal gains across a multitude of areas’. This seems to me to hit the nail on the head.

Pushing players in a consistent direction, making coaching accessible with lower prices and making tennis ‘ordinary’ is all part of the solution. We need to give our juniors tennis on a plate for them to choose us over football.