x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

When the crowd gets too close for comfort

Roger Federer was touched by the hand of greatness in Paris, but only after being chilled by the paws of a tawdry trespasser.

An intruder on the court interferes with Roger Federer during the men's singles final against Robin Soderling of Sweden.
An intruder on the court interferes with Roger Federer during the men's singles final against Robin Soderling of Sweden.

He was touched by the hand of greatness in Paris, but only after being chilled by the paws of a tawdry trespasser. Roger Federer had to outmanoeuvre more than Robin Soderling in winning his first French Open on Sunday. A member of the public's decision to contaminate the Swiss artisan's day by entering his private domain was hardly a time to trigger widespread guffawing in the Parisian boulevards.

A preposterous figure who goes by the moniker of Jimmy Jump is facing the threat of a year in prison in France not for his bizarre cameo - he tried to adorn Federer with a Barcelona FC hat - but because of the implications of what he could have done. How he managed to get the jump on half a dozen security guards should be studied with as much intensity as how the artful Roger prepares a backhand.

The Swiss player is not the first sportsperson to find their space invaded during working hours. In the times in which we live, there are security implications for such a breach that tennis, in particular, must study somewhat solemnly. It was the stabbing of Monica Seles at the German Open in Hamburg in 1993 that probably flashes across Federer's mind, and any other player, when a spectator decides to hightail it onto a court.

Gunter Parche, a crazed fan of the victim's rival Steffi Graf, knifed Seles in the back. It plunged a dagger into a career that had digested eight grand slams. She needed psychological treatment. She returned in 1995, but landed only one more major title at the Australian Open. The ability of the public to invade major sporting events has long since lost a comical edge, if they ever had one. Streakers are tiresome and selfish exhibitionists, but interlopers sometimes contain a more menacing ideology.

Cornelius Horan deprived the Brazilian runner Vanderlei de Lima of celebrating marathon gold in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. With less than four miles left of the marathon he floored the leader. Lima recovered ground, but won only bronze. Horan, a defrocked Catholic priest, had appeared on the Silverstone track carrying some sort of biblical message during the British Grand Prix of 2003 as cars whizzed past him. He was hardly acting in good faith.

The barmy James Miller parachuted himself into a world heavyweight boxing bout between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe in 1993. He became snagged on the ropes and was hammered by the minders of Bowe. He recalled himself as the only man to have been knocked out in the Las Vegas ring that night. People seem to have encroached upon sporting events since the suffragette, Emily Davison, threw herself in front of King George V's horse, Anmer, during the Derby at Epsom in 1913. Davison died from her injuries. At least the pursuit of the women's right to vote in the UK possessed some political worth.

There have been similar outlandish outbursts in several football grounds, and other arenas. The Australian bowler Terry Alderman damaged a shoulder in flooring a spectator during the Ashes in 1982. A brutish South African rugby fan once attacked a referee during a Tri-Nations match between the Springboks and New Zealand. Sports such as tennis and golf are self-policed. Football needs a fleet of policemen to ensure fans follow a code of conduct, golf needs only a rope. The unhinged get everywhere. It is difficult to check the hand baggage and mental well-being of spectators who unfurl themselves on such occasions. Such individuals contaminate the good name of sport, spoilsports to those around them.

If Jimmy Jump finds himself holed up in a Paris cell for several months, then he can perhaps be held up as an example of what should become of habitual sporting intruders. If you cannot do the time, don't do the crime. dkane@thenational.ae