Taki Taki

The death of sportsmanship

Let’s not shake on it: Elina Svitolina, left, and Victoria Azarenka walk off court without shaking hands at this year’s Wimbledon [Rob Newell/CameraSport/Getty]

Now that Wimbledon is over, a few thoughts about youthful brains showing traces of horse tranquillisers, angel dust and cannabis, the ingredients that spell ‘moron’. I mean those sporting idiots who booed Victoria Azarenka after she lost the tiebreak 11 to 9 in the third set to the charming Ukrainian Elina Svitolina. Here’s Vica – a woman, a mother, a wonderful player and, through no fault of her own, a Belarusian – being booed for going along with the decision of Ukrainian players not to shake hands with Russian or Belarusian opponents. When a Ukrainian player refused to shake hands during the French Open last month, the public booed her, not her Russian opponent. The frogs were right. Since when does the accident of birth make one a pariah? I’ll tell you: since it became unacceptable for anyone to hold different opinions from the mob, that is to say, today.

The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, yet a Soviet player, Alex Metreveli, was a cheered finalist against a Czech winner, Jan Kodes, 50 years ago (1973) at Wimbledon. Back then a player was not held in contempt for his or her country’s policies. The greatest sporting gentleman ever to compete was Baron Gottfried von Cramm, who represented Hitler’s Germany but was cheered to the rafters by Wimbledon crowds – he was a three-time finalist – for his fair play and courtesy on the court. But I suppose there were fewer idiots back then among the Brits.

Cramm, whom I got to know well in the Sudan and hit balls with every morning, angered Hitler in 1935 when, at match point in Germany’s favour against the US in the Davis Cup, he told the referee that the ball that went out winning the tie for Germany had tipped his racket, leading to the point being awarded to the Americans and an eventual victory.

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