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It's not the winning that counts by Max Davidson

Release date: 16th March, 2009
Publisher: Little, Brown

List Price: £12.99
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It's Not the Winning that Counts:
The Most Inspiring Moments of Sporting Chivalry
By Max Davidson

Sportsbookofthemonth.com price: £ 7.99, saving 38% on rrp

Many of us believe (nay, know) that sporting gamesmanship has become rife. Footballers routinely dive or feign injury to con referees, gain an unfair advantage or to have opponents cautioned. Rugby players deliberately obstruct opponents and collapse scrums, while cricketers sledge with increased venom and appeal for catches in the certain knowledge that a ball has been grounded.

Sport's colourful spectrum is crammed with further examples: there are undoubtedly boxers still prepared to take a dive, jockeys who throw races, athletes injecting themselves with a toxic concoction of drugs and even golfers who nudge their ball, unnoticed, towards a more favourable lie.

It goes without saying that money is at the root of this particular evil; its influence accounts for the muffled scoffing noises one hears whenever the Olympic motto - it's not winning, but taking part that counts - is aired. Today's objective is to win at all costs, yet sport has never been more popular amongst television viewers. Does this mean we condone diving, gouging and plain cheating? Or do we watch in the hope that a sportsman or woman will engage in an act of chivalry that warms him or her to us?

Max Davidson has written an excellent, thought-provoking book which errs on the side of optimism. His central tenet is that sportsmen are inherently more chivalrous than we give them credit for, but the bad 'uns command the headlines more frequently than they should. After reading this, no matter how sceptical, you would have to agree that Davidson has a point.

In fact, when the average sports fan puts his mind to it, he will recall numerous instances where we have applauded the sportsman for being just that - a true sport.

Two recent examples come immediately to mind: the first is Andrew Flintoff shaking hands with Australian batsman Brett Lee at the end of the Edgbaston Test a couple of years ago, an iconic image which adorns this book's cover. England had secured a narrow victory and Lee slumped to his haunches; instead of careering off and celebrating with his team-mates, Flintoff found time to commiserate with him.

The second was even more remarkable for it involved an erroneously-labelled footballing 'bad boy'. In a Premier League match a few seasons ago, West Ham forward Paulo Di Canio passed up the chance to snatch a late winner because Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard was lying injured and out of contention yards from his area.

When a cross found the Italian on his own in Everton's area and with a clear chance to score, Di Canio, who two seasons earlier had been forced to serve a lengthy suspension after he pushed over a referee, caught the ball, pointing at the stricken Gerrard. Goodison Park rewarded him with sustained applause.

"The more I examined the evidence," writes Davidson, "the more sceptical I became of the conventional wisdom - that sportsmanship had somehow become outmoded, like men holding doors open for women." Flintoff and Di Canio prove Davidson's point, but his book has plenty of other examples, which makes for a genuinely uplifting read. Yes, there are bad 'uns, but the good 'uns outnumber them by some distance, which is what makes them true champions.


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