Losing is no laughing matter

Andy Murray may have lost the Australian Open final last month, and despite Australia’s attempts to mock his tears, it appears that they are in keeping with a recent trend that transcends almost every sporting arena.

Tears have forever, it seems, pervaded the theatre of world sport and characterized the careers of players and teams throughout their long histories. Who can forget Paul Gascoigne’s reaction to that yellow card in Turin, Jana Novotna at Wimbledon, or perhaps most touchingly the myth that Donald Bradman failed to pick Hollies’ googly at the Oval due to the lack of a hankerchief?

Such outbursts of emotion were initially one-offs. Forever remembered for their rarity as much as for their release of emotion and intensity. How times have changed. More and more it has become the trend to launch the team lifeboat as soon as defeat (or victory) is upon the melodramatic stars. Whether or not the RNLI has been drafted in to sit alongside the St John’s Ambulance men at international rugby fixtures is one thing, but perhaps more interesting is to find a reason as to why such a reaction to grief and relief has become increasingly acceptable of the field of professional sports.

Until the start of the 1990s, blubbing sports stars didn’t exist. If a player wanted to cry he or she would stoically leave the field of play, march to the dressing room before, only then, balling one’s eyes out into the nearest sweaty towel. ‘Gazza’ made such an impact purely because such a spontaneous outburst of emotion was unprecedented. A footballer crying? Surely not.

Yet now it is commonplace to see men and women from tennis players to footballers to golfers whimper and sniff through acceptance speeches worldwide. When Roger Federer won his second Wimbledon title he very generously contributed to Centre Court a downpour of such magnitude that, had it occurred ten minutes earlier would surely have sent the ball boys running for the covers and Cliff Richard.

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Another case of overusing the lacrimal glands, under different circumstances admittedly, was when John Terry missed a penalty to win the Champions League in Moscow. He too opened the flood gates and had to be consoled by a fortunately already drenched Frank Lampard (and possibly later Mrs Wayne Bridge). This to add to the multitude of blubbers turned portable sprinklers who sit and litter the pitches with their bodies come final whistle in the knockout rounds of any international soccer tournament.

For some this is a genuine display of emotion for others it’s an unfortunate product of the players trying their utmost to ‘show commitment’ to their cause. In other words, if you don’t turn on the waterworks, then your heart was never really in it.

Football has been grateful to accept the image of the weeping hero more than any other sport. In part this is due to the number of supporters on the last day of the season who shed more than a tear when their team is relegated. A great deal of empathy is created when they see their favourites pledging allegiance to the doomed club by joining in the shared bawling. When local boy Alan Smith did exactly that at Bolton in May 2004 he was embraced by the Leeds fans a ‘class act’ and was lauded for his dedication to the cause whilst Mark Viduka, who had simply shrugged his shoulders, was lambasted as an underachieving mercenary. Some watery eyes at a convenient juncture can, nowadays, make or break a career in the eyes of the fans.

Even cricket has caught the crying bug. The Ashes of both 2005 and 2009 were fortunately bereft of tears, but not so the podium at last year’s women’s World Cup. After England had defeated New Zealand in the Final, the ‘White Ferns’ captain Haidee Tiffen fronted the post match interview visibly welling up and exited tearful. Serial sniffler Federer behaved in an almost identical manner when defeated at the Australian Open in 2009 after Rafael Nadal got the better of him. Here once again the tears were of the loser, those now ubiquitous tears that polarize audiences; either you sympathize with the defeated or laugh at their childish and public display of emotion. In the case of Federer one has seen them so often, that whether he is conqueror or conquered he is seen with a crumpled face of unbridled emotion.

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Making grown men cry is something that only sport can conjure on a truly public front. The spontaneous release of emotion is something that connects the star to his fans and allows someone as masterful as Federer to finally appear human. The true tears do show the passion and desire that draws so many people to watch and enjoy sport in the first place, though the more we as an audience see such antics, the more the act is diluted by the very watery teardrops that fall. There is obviously no way that such an act can be controlled, but the day the lifeboats arrive at Twickenham is the day that surely crying has taken too great a hold on what was originally the macho world of men’s sport.