the Grand National whilst two horses were being shot dead (having suffered untreatable injury during the race) left a feeling of nausea and injustice. A day later, a high profile football match being ruined by one of the worst refereeing decisions witnessed for some time gave rise to similar feelings and of course more calls for technology to replace human frailty.
Four weeks ago the country was in a state of national anxiety over a professional footballer who suffered a cardiac arrest during a match but, against the odds, survived and is recovering, partly owing to the incredible facilities at the home club and the fact that two leading cardiologists just happened to be at the game. No such luck though, and much less publicity in this country, for an Italian footballer who suffered the same just the other day but sadly did not survive.
Rugby players risk serious injury all the time, in cricket being hit by the ball travelling at 90mph is not exactly safe, and cyclists in the Tour de France demonstrate bravery bordering on insanity.
But should we allow horses to take serious risk without their approval. Trainers always tell us that horses wouldn't run over 4 miles and jump large fences unless they wanted to and they love racing, so in a way they choose to be professional sports beings and are not forced to do it to make people money. Certainly, as I know to my cost having once foolishly been the less than proud owner of one twelfth of a very unsuccessful racehorse, they are treated well, fed exceptionally well, beautifully groomed and pampered. A better life than the thousands of dogs and cats each year that are beaten, abused, neglected and, if lucky, dumped at rescue centres throughout the country. Where is the annual public clamour for their welfare ? They would swop lives with a racehorse any day, Bechers or no Bechers. The National is safer than it used to be and we should let it continue, aware of the risks and the injustice that it can bring. What we don’t need is the prolonged stress that the horses are put under prior to the race, almost certainly contributing to the fall and tragic outcome of the favourite. Why the organisers cannot start the race in a sensible way, without false starts and a lot of screaming at the jockeys and horses who are made to pace around in circles for ages, is a mystery.
Sport has risks attached. Risk of injury, even death, and risk of injustice are intrinsic. Eliminate the risks and you eliminate much of the excitement, drama and enjoyment. We tolerate the risks brought by violent people, cars, high speed trains, air travel, poor housing, inequalities in society, and the much less than perfect criminal justice system. We accept the seemingly infinite dangers of alcohol with only token attempts to control its excessive consumption, epidemic in the UK, though its risk of harm to people and animals is colossal compared to sport. We put up with the risks to health that we are all subject to and yet don’t receive national concern when we tragically fall to them. Many suffer cardiac arrests and, if surviving, don’t have the wealth of a professional footballer to live on. We must accept the risks in a well-intentioned and well-managed sport too.
Sport is not immune to terrible incident, nor to unfairness and inconsistency of justice. Just as nobody is immune to the chance of injustice in life. Perfect justice and perfect safety are a long way off.