Roger Alton

Spectator Sport: Stars and asterisks

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Parental advisory: what follows contains asterisks that some may find upsetting. It is clear that Steve Williams, Tiger Woods’s former caddy, and John Terry, the hopefully soon-to-be-former captain of England, are not particularly nice men. In fact they are assholes, to use one of Williams’s favourite words. So when Williams was asked what he would do with his joke caddying award at a blokey evening in Shanghai recently he said he wanted to shove it up Woods’s ‘bl**k asshole’. Now, had he just said ‘asshole’, nobody would have given it a moment’s thought beyond observing that, my oh my, Steve Williams is just the sort of guy you want to bring home to Mum. The use of ‘bl**k’ sent his remarks into the stratosphere.

What Terry did or didn’t say to Anton Ferdinand, Rio’s rather less well-known brother, will in time become a matter for scholars to pore over. What we do know that he didn’t say, because he told us, is that Ferdinand was a ‘f***ing c***’. And of course had that been all, there would not have been a column centimetre devoted to it. But in fact what he didn’t call Ferdinand was more specifically a ‘f***ing bl**k c***’. And it’s here of course, as with Williams, that the story becomes stratospheric.

I don’t believe Williams is racist — he worked for Woods throughout his career until he was sacked last year. In fact he’s very even-handed in his unpleasantness: he said of Phil Mickelson, ‘I hate the prick.’ And I’m sure that whatever you might think about Terry, he’s not racist either. He captains one of the most racially mixed outfits in the Premier League, a team stuffed with bl**k superstars. Should they have used the ‘b’ word? Of course not. But should they launch into torrents of abuse like that at all? Again, of course not. Abuse is abuse and we should start trying to cut it out before all our language is reduced to asterisks.

It’s the Heineken Cup again, rugby’s equivalent of the Champions League, but I would argue with much more substance. The group stages of the latter are more about money than entertainment, and it’s rare that you can’t predict with absolute certainty the two teams that will go through from each group. By contrast, in the Heineken, with only eight teams progressing from six groups of four, matches matter much more. Lose at home and you are almost out, get a bonus point away and you’re in a very strong position. Highlights of the opening round are Munster (effectively the Ireland forwards) vs Northampton (Ashton, Foden, Hartley); and Cardiff vs Racing Metro (Sam Warburton’s rematch against some of the French World Cup finalists, although Clerc, alas, plays for Toulouse).

Finally, anyone who’s had enough of Mr Terry and his chums and wants to listen to a proper English hero should try to catch one of Doug Scott’s annual mountaineering lectures next week. Scott is an authentic sporting giant with innumerable great climbing achievements all over the world to his name. This year’s series is called ‘First on K2’ and looks at the triumphs, tragedies and epic feats of heroism on the world’s second highest, and most difficult and dangerous peak. It defeated Doug himself four times, so I can’t wait to hear what he’s got to say. He’s at Oxford next Tuesday (15 November), then the Royal Geographical Society, Kensington on Wednesday, Glasgow on Thursday, finishing in Edinburgh the next evening. Details can be found at, and all proceeds go to Scott’s charity, Community Action Nepal. Enjoy.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.

Written byRoger Alton

Roger Alton is a former editor of the Observer and the Independent. He writes the Spectator Sport column.

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