Picture the scene. Next Saturday, fans of arguably the roughest and toughest of all team sports – rugby league – will pack Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium for the inaugural game of the 2013 World Cup.
The match itself promises to be epic. England are third in the Rugby League International Federation rankings, but with home support, a mighty forward pack and the genius that is Sam Tomkins in the backline, victory over the top-ranked Australians is within their grasp.
As a potential battle, it is mouth-watering: a gladiatorial clash brimming with blood and thunder.
If only the same could be said for the pre-match build-up, which is not so mouth-watering as eye-watering. At least, the trousers will be.
Because, in something of a non sequitur – even by the topsy-turvy standards of opening ceremonies for global sports tournaments – it was announced on Wednesday that this Titanic clash in this most macho of sports will be preceded by, erm, ballroom dancing. From tap dancing to tap tackle, from paso doble to passing dummies, from sequins to sin bin.
It does not quite add up.
And there is more.
The man in spandex will not be just any prancing dancer but an absolute giant of the game: Martin Offiah.
The former Wigan and Great Britain winger will be performing a jive, using moves he perfected on the very first series of the BBC light entertainment show Strictly Come Dancing.
This plan makes me feel rather uneasy, for two main reasons.
Let’s start with the obvious: dancing leaves a man, and in this case a nation, open to mockery.
I know, I know. Dancers are among the fittest athletes to walk the planet, with strength and agility to rival any boxer, baller or brawler.
Nonetheless, I challenge anyone to look at a chap dressed in a frilly shirt, leaping about like a sunbather who has forgot to put on his flip-flops while walking across a scorching beach, and not find it mildly ridiculous.
In addition, we should bear in mind that half the crowd will be rough-necked Australians who already believe English “Poms” to be lacking in butchness.
Is this really the time to be handing them extra ammunition?
My second objection is about the effect a dancing Offiah will have on the solemnity of the occasion.
The beauty of any sport, but in particular a contact sport such as rugby league, is its gladiatorial nature.
The players are not just athletes but prized specimens of manhood at its peak. They are brave, powerful, unwavering warriors.
Of course, time will eventually catch up with them, just as it did with “Chariots” Offiah.
Perhaps, in 15 years, it will be England’s star player Sam Tomkins who is forced to pull on the spandex and dance for our amusement, another expired genius to be trussed up and teased for his flat footwork or jutting posterior.
But, on the glorious opening day of a World Cup, why does anyone need to be reminded of that sorry fate?
Now is their moment to shine.
Let’s enjoy it in all its glorious, finite beauty – not look ahead to what lies in store.
Incidentally, I am aware that Gareth Thomas, the former Wales and British & Irish Lions captain, will also be displaying his Strictly Come Dancing-honed moves on the big day.
This is less of a concern.
These are rugby league fans, remember, and Thomas played most of his career in rugby union.
As far as they are concerned, he has already humiliated himself in some rather soft, choreographed nonsense.
After union, ballroom dancing is a step up.
Farah and away, his ‘Britishness’ has legs
Mo Farah’s backtracking over his apparently dismissive attitude towards the 2014 Commonwealth Games was nearly as fast as his 10,000-metre pace.
In a radio interview on Tuesday, the British athlete said competing at the Games, which are due to take place in Glasgow, would be “a bonus if I do it but it’s not on my list”.
His focus, he said, was on the London Marathon.
In another interview the following day, however, he claimed to have been misinterpreted.
He was not dismissing the Games, he said, but merely following the adage of taking things one race at a time.
I do hope that is the case because snubbing the Commonwealth Games would only fuel the fire of those who claim a Somalian-born migrant cannot be truly British.
My preferred yardstick for “Britishness”, or indeed of any other nationality, is based upon shared experience.
And while the Commonwealth Games are a mere shadow of the Olympics, many British people grew up treasuring them as a rare chance to watch our athletes win something.
This was in the days before the all-conquering Team GB, you see.
To snub such a national treasure, particularly one on home soil, purely to concentrate on a money-spinning novelty like the London Marathon would be, in my view, poor form.
Unless, of course, Farah sees himself more as a modern Londoner than a traditional Brit.
The English capital is fast developing a sense of otherness from the rest of the country, and some are calling for it to be made an independent city state. In this context, Farah favouring the marathon over the Games while still claiming to love his adopted home makes a lot more sense.
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