Watching Victoria Pendleton struggle through her first cha-cha-cha in Strictly Come Dancing last month, (viewed strictly for research purposes, you understand) would have given anyone with a bet on the Olympian to win the series a panicked moment or two. While gold medal-winningly brilliant on the track, the dance floor was proving a testing challenge for the cycling ambassador. Despite following it up with a more convincing foxtrot the week after, it’d be a brave man or woman to stick with Pendleton to win the popular series.
Likewise, anyone taking a punt on Bradley Wiggins to scoop the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award must be left nervously eyeing their betting slip in the wake of Andy Murray becoming the first Brit to win a Grand Slam in centuries, or thereabouts. Likewise Europe’s success in the Ryder Cup and multiple GB winners at London 2012 will have clouded the odds still further.
Whichever way you look at it, we’ve not been short of sporting success this year in Britain.
The contrast between those successes and the fall from grace of Lance Armstrong could hardly be greater. Those backers of cycling, which would be all of us I guess, will have had more than a few sweaty moments seeing the man’s reputation unfold in front of the world. All that good work done for the reputation of cycling this year, all undone because of past sins of he who used to be the world’s best known cyclist? All those GB cyclists becoming household names hurt by the reputation of a fellow pro cyclist?
No sport is lily white, with scandals often threatening to undermine gains. It’s not been a good year for English football, for instance. Since the formation of the Premiership and England’s Semi-Final showing at Italia ‘90, the game has secured a more respectable and media-friendly reputation, but of late the growing disparity between unthinkably high wages at the top of the game and everyday football fans hasn’t done wonders for the public face of the game. Still less the awful race-based public relation disasters instigated at the very top of the English game.
The funny thing is, I don’t seem to be seeing any fewer people playing football on Sunday or turning up to lacklustre England fixtures. Likewise, I don’t anticipate seeing any fewer cyclists riding now that Armstrong’s reputation is in tatters. The relationship between professional sports performance and grass roots participation is a complex one, but the latter is more than capable of riding out former’s rough patches.