Monday, December 21, 2009

Don’t cry for Tiger Woods

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)
I am no fan of golf. I am a great fan of champions though. And that’s why Tiger Woods is so important to me. It’s heartening to note that 142 sports editors in the United States have still found it in them to name Woods the greatest athlete of the decade gone by.

And that’s exactly how it should be.

No sportsperson, anywhere in the world, has impacted his or her sport the way Tiger Woods has. Ever. Not Don Bradman. Not Pele. Not Roger Federer. Not Lance Armstrong. Not Steffi Graf. Not Jesse Owens. Not even Muhammad Ali.

Tiger Woods. Coloured. Polite. Educated. Erudite. Good-looking. And absolutely brilliant. So brilliant, that top tier pro Colin Mongomerie has celebrated Tiger’s sabbatical by saying, “now we have a chance to win too”. That’s how important Tiger Woods is. Not like Ali. None of his opponents ever wished he wasn’t there. They wanted to beat him. When it comes to Tiger, his opponents know it’s practically impossible to beat him.

And that’s what makes the present situation so terribly sad. Tiger Woods has actually done what most heterosexual men do, or want to do. If he is a sex-maniac, as he has been called, it has no bearing on his game. It’s not like drug addiction. Or, like in George Best’s case, alcoholism.

But then, having said that, it’s not too dissimilar either. Because Tiger Woods is not just about his game. He is also a lot about his persona. His image. Tiger Woods is the richest sportsperson in the world not only because he is the best golfer ever. It’s also because his public persona is such that most big brands want to associate with him. They want him to be their face. A clean image. Much like someone in India wanting to associate with Viswanathan Anand. Or Anil Kumble.

Each time I have had this discussion with friends and colleagues, I have faced the retort that Tiger Woods has never cheated at his game. But isn’t that a lie too? Tiger has earned millions from corporate like Accenture and Gillette and General Motors for his image. But that image was a lie!

So even if Tiger hasn’t cheated on the golf course, he has cheated corporates of their millions by lying to them. Isn’t that worth anything?

Recently, when Andre Agassi confessed to drug abuse in his autobiography, many tennis players including Boris Becker implored him to return his Grand Slam trophies. Maybe the world of golf will not read this article, but if they could, I would ask them to force Tiger Woods to return money to his sponsors. That would be fair.