Daniel Harris

Why are sports biographies treated differently to other works?

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap has been running in London theatres for 62 years straight – a period that spans more than 25,000 performances. As is traditional in the genre, it ends with the suspects gathered together for a shocking denouement, during which the detective unmasks the murderer, to general horror. Despite the number of times this has happened, the identity of the killer is apparently ‘the best-kept secret in show business’; at no point has any reviewer felt the need to reveal that the butler did it.

On the other hand, the publication last week of two autobiographies – one by Kevin Pietersen and one by Roy Keane – were treated quite differently. The findings of various speedreaders were consolidated by newspapers into liveblogs, multiple pieces were published revealing the most salacious details, and further digests then compiled – with journalists tweeting their favourite lines. For those unable or unwilling to avoid all media, the books’ contents were entirely unavoidable.

In no other medium is this done. Hell, the bloke who tweets the front pages of first editions even felt obliged to warn of Great British Bake Off final spoilers. And that’s just a bunch of randoms making a few cakes, whereas elite sport obsesses millions.

It is, though, fair to distinguish between the books. Some of what Pietersen had to say relates to matters current in English cricket, which makes it news. Keane, on the other hand, is discussing matters historical; his thoughts have neither use nor purpose beyond our reading pleasure. Nevertheless, his book has been ransacked several days prior to its general availability by those who might demur at, say, the breaking of an embargo.

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