Tuesday 26 September 2017

Different ball games but same bogus morals must be applied

Dion Fanning

Those of us who become defensive when footballers are portrayed as gang-banging, amoral barbarians have been challenged in the last week by the depiction of the England rugby team.

Sometimes when we read of the eye-gouging, spear-tackling, blood-capsuling, cheek-slashing cheating that is part of rugby's manly tapestry, it is easy to speculate that these events would have been portrayed as the end of civilisation if they had been committed by a footballer.

Last week has been different. If a footballer had behaved as Mike Tindall is supposed to have done in a New Zealand bar, I think the response would have been "nothing to see here" or, perhaps, "nothing to see here unless he's also been Skyping her naked".

The newsdesks of the English tabloids would not have scrambled if they had heard reports that some members of the English football team had spent time in a bar.

Tindall got drunk and seemed to engage in some sort of physical high jinx with a woman who was later described as an "old friend", as if that provided some sort of illumination.

He was then described as having "frolicked" with her, a word, with its suggestions of gentle playfulness, that doesn't come close to describing a rugby player in flirtatious mood.

They don't tend to linger on the badinage, playing instead to their strengths. I remember being in a bar in Dublin in the late 1980s and watching a star of the local rugby team walk up to a girl he liked, pick her up, sling her over his shoulder and bring her over to his friends. I muttered about his crass barbarism but I also noted darkly that the girl was laughing as she was supposed to when I struck up the conversation I had worked out in my head.

From the CCTV footage, Tindall appeared to be working from a similar playbook. There was a lot of wrestling and playful slapping with his old friend even if he never went so far as to fling her over his shoulder, presumably having seen enough of that at the "dwarf-throwing contest" earlier.

Some would venture that Tindall has refined his behaviour as he moves in grander circles than the average rugby player but this would seem to be contradicted by the evidence that he spends a lot of time in the company of Prince Harry.

Certainly his royal connections impressed the press pack who wanted to get to the bottom of the story. One felt for the former investigative staff of the News of the World who would surely have uncovered more evidence of this treacherous behaviour.

Tindall is held to a higher moral standard because he is married to the Queen's grand-daughter, a privileged position in English life, but no more demanding than being married to Cheryl Cole. Ashley Cole might have got a bit of stick for "frolicking" as Tindall did but it's hard to imagine any tabloid being engaged unless there were at least some "sex texts" to go with it, "sex texts" which, it would transpire, had been sent by someone who had borrowed his phone.

Tindall had no need for any defence, insisting that the worst part of his week had involved missing out on the game.

Instead he relied on Martin Johnson, who is demonstrating a sound instinct when dealing with the press and an even sounder instinct when dealing with bullshit.

Sky's reporter informed Johnson and Tindall that "a bit of contrition, that's all the people are asking for." The people, or at least the minority in England that care about rugby, are probably just looking for a good night's sleep.

Instead they drag themselves from their beds to watch England put up a fight against Georgia or Romania, all of them united in putting in the hard yards in the hope that something good will come of it later on.

Unlike the Sky man, I can't speak for the people of England, although he may have been looking into his heart and reflecting the views of his editors in Sky HQ rather than the man on the Clapham omnibus or, in rugby's case, the man in the Clapham joke shop.

I suspect that the English people are not really seeking any contrition from Tindall for his frolicking with a blonde or even frolicking with 'dwarves' but instead are just taking whatever entertainment they can.

The press probably feel the same way, especially as they try and get their heads round these endless early weeks of a tournament which for everyone but Ireland seems meaningless.

For Sky's man, though, the English people need an apology. They're holding Tindall to an even higher moral standard than John Terry when he was forced to relinquish the England captaincy over his alleged affair with the former girlfriend of a former team-mate.

It seemed a lot to sacrifice for Wayne Bridge who has done little of note on a football field since refusing to shake Terry's hand in the pre-match formalities.

Terry, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney all demonstrate that there is a life after this bogus morality.

They all failed to meet the imposed morals expected of "role models" and Tindall was now being asked to meet these false standards too.

He could have delivered his act of contrition but it would have been unclear who he was apologising to and what for. Certainly no footballer would ever behave like that.

dfanning@independent.ie

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