Joe Humphreys - Foul Play (3 stars)

Joe Humphreys

(Icon Books)


With the protests surrounding the Beijing Olympics going into overdrive, disgraced sprinter Dwain Chambers seeking a new career in rugby league and the integrity of referees, umpires and line judges being called into question every single week, Foul Play: What’s Wrong with Sport? seems like a timely tome. Yet, as Irish journalist Joe Humphreys readily notes, greed, scandal and corruption have been bedfellows of sporting endeavour from the very first whistle and even the seemingly whiter than white likes of WG Grace occasionally showed that the Queensbury Rules were there to be flaunted.

As Humphreys argues, sport has now landed a knock-out blow to religion in delivering a belief system and facilitating a series of rituals which guide the daily lives of fanatics. Legendary, yet deeply flawed, individuals such as Zinédine Zidane, Mike Tyson and Ben Johnson fulfil our need for leisure-time messiahs, and these days we seek divine intervention from the technical areas rather than the pulpits; when Pope John Paul II’s funeral was broadcast in Ireland, twice as many viewers tuned in to the Republic’s game with Switzerland.

Humphreys isn’t just content to list the multitude of sins perpetrated by sport, but is happy to take a controversial line on doping and steroids (ach, what’s the harm?) and to insist that watching sport rots the brain. But he loses the plot slightly by insisting that the bamboozlingly dumb comments made by football managers such as Kevin Keegan (actually, mainly Kevin Keegan) are far preferable to listening to intelligent minds delving deeper into formations, tactics and the offside rule. Yellow card for Humphreys.

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