Bacon’s Bites: What happened to skill? Sport is all about bigger, faster and stronger these days

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova - Credit: PA

Mike Bacon has his say on some of sport’s biggest issues, including Maria Sharapova, footballers swapping shirts and a tribute to Bryan Knights.

Should we really be surprised by Maria Sharapova’s positive drug test this week?

The 28-year-old star is the latest name to fall foul of doping regulations that are becoming more strict as the years go by, not just in tennis.

Sport, sadly is becoming all about the physical, the powerful – and the huge financial rewards make temptation great.

Deft, skilful athletes, footballers, rugby players, tennis stars are the minority these days – thank goodness for Lionel Messi!


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Yep, if you are not six foot with bulging biceps by the time you are 16, best hope you are good at snooker, table tennis, cricket, or tiddly-winks because plenty of other sports will poo poo you.

But back to Sharapova.

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Hers is perhaps a slightly different case, given her claim that she’s been taking the drug meldonium since 2006 for medical reasons.

But it is now on the banned list for a reason – and a world star like her should have known better.

The drug ‘increases blood flow, which improves exercise capacity’.

It is, put simply, a performance enhancing drug.

And performance-enhancing drugs are just that – performance-enhancing.

Why would a tennis player take them? To improve their ‘touch’ round the net, improve their volleying or back hand?

No.

What about a rugby player?

Would performance-enhancing drugs improve a player’s ‘side-step’ skills, or quick-ball handling?

No.

What about footballers. No performance-enhancing drug is going to improve a player’s ‘Cruyff-turn’ or ability to curl a 25-yard free-kick into the top corner.

But they will improve your physical power and strength – the key to today’s sport. Who needs too much skill when you can have brute brawn?

Sportsmen and women know if they are to reach the top, invariably they need to be physically strong and have the ability to ‘last the pace’.

It’s as important as worrying about drop shots, drop goals or dropped catches.

As much as I enjoy watching rugby, I feel the sport is becoming way too physical.

I was talking to someone at the weekend – a big rugby fan who has followed the game for years – and he felt rugby was akin to Formula One in the 1970s, right now.

Back then, cars got faster and faster and the drivers were being subjected to more and more risk, pushing themselves to the limit.

In rugby, strength and conditioning is becoming as important, if not more, than side-steps, drop goals and box kicks.

But rugby is not alone.

The vast majority of players in all sports will work at their fitness legally – but the temptation will be there for those who want a ‘quick fix’.

We are losing too many ‘skill merchants’ – the smaller guys and girls who so entertain with their craft and nous.

Oh how we miss Barry John, Gareth Edwards, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe – not a six-footer or bulging bicep among them, but with so much talent and skill.

Sharapova’s positive test may have been a mistake on her part.

But in today’s sporting landscape, the fact is natural ability will only get some – not all – so far.

For some, the rewards are, and will always be, too tempting.

And that is a crying shame for sport.

Not often I agree with Keano – but Hazard was bang out of order

It’s not often I agree with Roy Keane – especially when it comes to Ipswich Town selling Jordan Rhodes (why?).

But I had to agree with his comments about Chelsea’s Eden Hazard’s (pictured) decision to swap shirts with PSG’s Angel Di Maria at half-time in the Champions’ League clash at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night – a match Chelsea went on to lose.

“What has to be going through a player’s mindset in such a big game?,” Keane said.

“You’re thinking about swapping jerseys at half-time? I wouldn’t even bother swapping shirts at the end of the game? At half-time? Shocking.”

You are not wrong Keano!

You had your faults as a player. But your commitment on the pitch and for the fans who paid their money to watch you, could rarely be faulted.

Hazard on the other hand...

Twenty20 cricket is a joke!

I must confess I never knew Afghanistan and Oman were such big cricketing nations. Their victories this week in the Twenty20 World Cup in India, over Scotland and Ireland respectively, have no doubt raised awareness of the game in the two countries more than a Kerry Packer World Series, or a Mike Gatting ‘rebel’ tour to South Africa ever could.

But, while I’m thrilled for both countries to gain the wins that were no doubt greeted with great joy in their countries, it rather just re-confirms my thoughts on Twenty20 cricket.

It’s a joke!

Paying tribute to a much-loved commentator

I was sad to hear of the passing of Bryan Knights.

Although I didn’t know him as well as some of my former sports colleagues here at the EADT/Ipswich Star, I did spend many summer nights in the Foxhall Heath ‘press box’ at Ipswich Speedway chatting with him.

Knightsy was a real sporting ‘all-rounder’.

His radio commentaries for Ipswich Town were always well received, but he had a love of many sports, including cricket and speedway.

I remember when the Witches got through to the speedway Elite League play-offs in 2008, I went to Poole with Bryan and Stephen Foster as BBC Radio Suffolk did a special ‘live’ meeting.

Knightsy asked me to co-commentate with him.

I said I was happy to do so, but had to file my newspaper copy by 10.30pm. We had fun commentating together, despite the Witches losing.

In fact it was so enjoyable I had a moment of panic when I realised it was 9.30pm and I hadn’t written a word of my copy yet!

“Don’t worry, you’ll get that done,” Bryan said.

“And Mike . . . thanks so much for your help tonight.”

The pleasure was mine.

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