x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

I'm just lost for words

Football is the world's most loved sport. Mime is the world's least loved form of entertainment and most of the acts are simply irrelevant.

The mime artist impersonators who are taking over football should be sent to the sin bin Why is the Premier League failing to tackle simulation? I don't mean diving in the box to win a penalty, which is so entrenched in the modern game that clubs will soon be hiring specialist coaches to perfect the art. Plus, the rot has already spread to the new generation. I fully expect Liverpool's David Ngog, for example, to give a weepy Gwyneth Paltrow-style speech when he collects his Oscar for that dive at Anfield against Birmingham City.

"I'd just like to thank Didier Drogba... sob... Michael Owen... sniff... Jurgen Klinsmann. You guys are my masters, my mentors... wail... my inspiration." The simulation we still have a chance of eliminating is that which occurs not before but immediately after a goal: mime artistry. Manchester City's Carlos Tevez brought the issue back to prominence last week when he scored against his former club, Manchester United.

The Argentine striker turned his hand into a little talking mouth intended to represent Gary Neville. Not exactly Etienne Decroux, the "father of modern mime", but neither was Neville's response, which was about as elementary as mime gets. Other players put more thought into their mimes, if not the consequences. Paul Gascoigne needed police protection after playing an imag-inary flute - symbolic of Protestant marching bands - in the sectarian-fuelled hatred of a Glasgow derby. Everton's Tim Cahill mimed handcuffs in a show of solidarity to his brother, who had been jailed for assault.

It may have been more appropriate to mime a white stick and guide dog, however, in solidarity to the poor chap who was partially blinded as a result of said assault. And Liverpool's Robbie Fowler caused outrage when he answered unfounded rumours of drug abuse by pretending to snort the goal line. This always struck me as an odd way to protest innocence. Like OJ Simpson celebrating his acquittal by pretending to knife someone.

Most celebratory mimes are neither offensive nor inflammatory but simply irrelevant - particularly when they involve a player's hobby. Music-loving Emile Heskey, for example, used to pretend to play a record when he scored. Of course, most people have switched to iPods in the last five years - and once Heskey scores again we will discover if he has updated his celebration. (What a brilliant joke! You cannot see this but I am celebrating it by miming my hobby, building a scale model of Big Ben from matchsticks.)

Even the widespread practice of kissing the wedding ring seems irrelevant. Why bring your wife into it? Unless, of course, the last thing she told you was: "Watch their right back, he tends to drift into the centre and leave the flank exposed." Look, the facts are simple. Football is the world's most loved sport. Mime is the world's least loved form of entertainment. Even in the mime stronghold of France it has dropped down the list, well behind football. So why mix the two? Let's stamp it out before football is infiltrated by mime fans, and you will not know if a man in blue and white stripes loves Reading FC or Marcel Marceau. We need a suitable punishment for mime and I would suggest a form of the ice hockey "sin bin". Any player caught miming must stand on the touchline for the next 10 minutes - wearing white gloves and pretending to be stuck in a glass box.

The bandwagon to create a World Cup-style tournament for tennis is gathering pace. Leading players including Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick are all said to favour the idea of a biennial tournament for 32 nations, held over 10 days in a single location. The idea has been mooted as a solution to the dwindling interest in the Davis Cup among both fans and players - Roddick, Andy Murray and Roger Federer have all opted not to compete in the first round. As a tennis fan, the idea leaves me cold. In fact, I find the whole concept of international tennis bizarre. International football or rugby makes perfect sense. You watch domestic teams, you identify the strongest players and you start to wonder how they would function as a national unit, against other national units. Without international tournaments to answer this question, we would go mad wondering. Nobody would get any work done.

But tennis is different. You watch it, you see who is the best individual, and then you go home. The reason so few people care about the Davis Cup is not because of its format but because tennis is such an individual sport that nationalism is irrelevant. This is a good thing, by the way. Major tennis tournaments are refreshingly free of the unpleasant jingoism that blights other sports. Can you imagine the Wimbledon or Roland Garros crowds booing Boris Becker because he was German? Or Flushing Meadows giving Maria Sharapova a frosty reception because she is Russian? Could most people even tell you that Federer is Swiss or Nadal hails from Mallorca? Other sports can only dream of being as racism-free as tennis, so let's keep it that way. Leave the flags at home and go support your favourite player, wherever they are from. Will Batchelor is a writer, broad-caster and self confessed cynical sports fan sports@thenational.ae