by Howard Johnson
So the times they are a-changing. Whereas at one time it was only pro footballers who attracted the attentions of Great Britain’s notorious muck-raking tabloid press, now international rugby players also find themselves in the firing line.
I’m not sure just how many waves Mike Tindall’s late night activities in New Zealand have made around the world, but the English centre’s evening out in Queenstown last week was seized on to create scandal in the UK by The Sun, erstwhile sister paper to the now-defunct News Of The World. The News Of The World was a paper, let’s not forget, that met its doom after hacking into the mobile phone of a murdered schoolgirl and causing widespread revulsion, even in a country that seems to have chucked away its moral barometer thanks to an endless obsession with everything that’s vapid, meaningless and superficial.
But back to Tinds... His crime? Ending up a bit squiffy in a bar and supposedly being a little touchy feely with a blonde at the end of the night. Now I wasn’t there on the evening in question, so I don’t know the circumstances, but my point is this. Who in their right mind gives a toss what Mike Tindall got up to in the Altitude bar except Mrs Tindall?
From the CCTV footage that the muck-rakers got their hands on, the ‘evidence’ of any supposed indiscretion is circumstantial to say the least. Tindall is seen nuzzling up to a girl, but his physical contact could easily be seen as nothing more than affectionate and totally proper. And as it turns out Tindall’s wife, the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips, has confirmed that the lass in question was a friend of the couple who’d been at the couple’s marriage less than two months ago. Whatever. But if this is true, then it already asks serious questions about the integrity of a paper that could easily be seen in this case as uninterested in doing standard journalistic research for fear of blowing a scandal-oriented story. And even if Tindall had gone on and bedded the girl that night, what on earth would it have to do with anyone but the player and his wife?
Sportsmen are not politicians. They don’t tell people how they should be living their lives. They don’t make capital out of their own moral certitudes. They don’t have a direct influence on our lives, our fortunes, our personal circumstances. I don’t ever remember Mike Tindall telling me what I should or shouldn’t be doing, or how I should or shouldn’t be behaving. I do, however, remember David Cameron and all the rest of them doing exactly that. And don’t give me the old chestnut of how sportsmen need to set an example to youngsters. On the pitch that argument may hold some water, but rugby players have the highest respect for rugby referees and the rugby public and prove it on a weekly basis in a tough, challenging and physical environment. Let’s face it, what happens to a rugby player in a bar in New Zealand late at night is none of my goddamn business.
Of course the subtext in many of the newspaper comment pieces that followed this particular storm in a tea cup were based around the notion that Tindall’s behaviour was some kind of outrage as much because England haven’t been very good in their two World Cup games to date as because it was morally reprehensible. Bollocks! Does anyone in their right mind think that England would have performed any better if Tindall had been tucked up in bed with a book and a cup of hot chocolate on the night in question? Has anyone ever seen how hard these boys work on a training pitch? Does anyone believe that one or two All Blacks haven’t had a few sherbets just the same to celebrate their two thumping opening victories? The reality is this. It’s just Mike Tindall’s ‘misfortune’ to be married to a girl who’s in the public eye and to be playing professional rugby in an era where such pathetic journalism has finally entered his world.
I’d be very interested to know how many of the ‘journalists’ who came up with this story would enjoy their own late-night behaviour in bars at the age of 32 to be the subject of front page tabloid tittle-tattle? I know for a fact that I wouldn’t, and I suspect that I’m a rank amateur compared to many Sun journalists when it comes to behaving properly badly. The phrase ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’ was coined in recognition of the fact that boys will be boys. I’m not saying that’s particularly laudable and women the world over might justifiably get a little nervous knowing that rugby tours have always witnessed selfish, silly and morally-ambivalent behaviour. But that’s a matter for individuals, their partners and their conscience, not for a tabloid newspaper that feigns moral outrage as a smokescreen for pathetic titillation and the cold-hearted cynicism that comes out of a callous drive to increase sales. After all the collective soul-searching of recent times you’d have thought The Sun would have more sense. But it would seem that a leopard never really changes its spots and a vulture always remains a vulture.
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