Sporting crime

Athletics Heats 2008, Beijing National Stadium.
Olympic athletics 2008, Beijing National Stadium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning there is news of an Australian test cricketer announcing his retirement from international cricket after a serious injury. He said something to the effect that he couldn’t find such commitment any more. Translate into strine: ‘Can’t be arsed, mate.’

Now – of course he’s on the level and there’s nothing else behind his decision.

But what if…. what if a high-profile sportsman or woman has something to hide? What if someone unpleasant has put pressure on them? Maybe they surrendered to greed under heavy persuasion? Maybe family life gave them cause to break a lifetime’s integrity and sportsmanship… Competition + money + pressure = conflict = drama.

London has just had Wimbledon; it’s about to be overwhelmed by Olympic fever. The cricket is going on; football has just been European.

Rangers – one of the stars of the Scottish Football League – is going to know today whether or not it will be allowed to continue in the league  – nothing to do with talent, goalscoring or silverware – it’s the bean-counting and paper-shuffling that has been its downfall. No football fan will have missed the rows, scandals and battles over Manchester United and its ownership.

Dick Francis has earned a very good whack for decades with his crime novels all connected to horse-racing. Now John Francome and Jenny Pitman have joined him on the crime fiction shelves and the best-seller lists. All three writers were at the top of the steeplechase world – Francombe and Francis as National Hunt jockeys, Pitman as the first women trainer of a Grand National winner.

Ball-tampering and match-fixing scandals walloped test cricket for some years, with high profile, highly respected players caught taking bribes for cheating.

Now we have the Olympics. Drugs scandals are always in the offing, with athletes or their trainers finding ever more obscure ways of boosting performance, searching for substances that are still legal, and sometimes tipping over into law-breaking.

There is a lot of money at stake in sport. Take a massive amount of adrenalin and aggression in intensely competitive athletes, add in ambition and greed in those around them, taking part or spectating.

People are infinitely ingenious in finding ways to beat the system, cheat, steal, defraud and manipulate. All this gives the crime writer licence to do the same, on the page, anyway.

Not forgetting romantic fiction – love stories happening in sport add romance and sex into the heady mix of hormones in the sports arena. Bend it like Beckham, Gregory’s Girl and Wimbledon spring to mind immediately.

The Olympics is the pinnacle for most sports: it’s full of drama as they are. Add in money, ambition, pressures from all sorts of directions, the media spotlight, personal problems, family conflicts… you have the makings of the best and worst of human behaviour. That is the stuff of fiction.

Get writing.

Which sport do you think could take fiction by storm in the way that horse-racing has done?