Sporting heroes? Yes, they do exist

The word “hero” is used all too freely by sports journalists – usually wrongly. But there are real heroes in sport, and one candidate for that description was in Cardiff last night – former Zimbabwe cricketer Henry Olonga, who publicly (and heroically) defied his country’s oppressive regime.

Olonga and team-mate Andy Flower wore black arm bands as a protest against the death of democracy in their country, when they played in the 2003 World Cup. The gesture effectively ended Olonga’s career and forced him to flee the country, accused of treason.

He currently lives in Britain, and remains unsure what the future holds in store.

A charismatic and engaging speaker, Olonga addressed an audience at a special forum, organised by sport-politics consultancy In The Zone and hosted by its director Dr Russell Holden, in the Waterloo Gardens Teahouse, Penylan.

Olonga’s story is told in a new book, Blood, Sweat and Treason, from which he read excerpts before answering questions. He finished – by request – with a song. He’s a talented singer too, and has even released an album.

Is he a hero? He would deny it, though he reminded us of the oft-paraphrased words of Edmund Burke (a politician, as well as philosopher) “All that is needed for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”

His act was that of a good man, for sure. A brave man, too, because he and Flower knew of the vicious beatings and worse handed out by the government and its agents.

I’d be happy to argue Olonga’s status as a hero – far more than the soccer player who scores the winning goal, or the cricketer who scores the double century to save the match. Heroes? Really?

There’s a lot of hyperbole in sports media. I recall in journalism training long ago being advised “Don’t call it a disaster when your team loses 5-0. If you do, what words do you have left when the grandstand burns down and people are killed?”

We should be careful how freely we talk of heroes too.

Weltch Media provides communications services for sports organisations and others.

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