28th September 2016
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Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

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Should top sportsmen and women be automatic role-models for young people? That question has been much in evidence because of recent behaviour.

One latest such “incident” saw Aston Villa footballer Gabriel Agbonlahor pictured holding a shisha pipe during the recent international break.

Quite why the Villa players were allowed a break in Dubai anyway, with their club on the brink of relegation, is another question. The main point is that Agbonlahor did nothing wrong: taking a few puffs on such a contraption is in essence no different to enjoying a couple of beers.

For those not acquainted with this kind of pastime, the shisha is a water-pipe, popular in many Arab countries, where fruit-scented tobacco is burned before being passed through ornate vessels and inhaled through a hose.

Shisha bars are now commonplace in the UK – the London district of Marylebone is filled to the gunwales with them and parts of other cities, including around Edinburgh’s Potterrow, are following suit.

The pipes are believed to produce at least four times higher levels of carbon monoxide than the amount produced by cigarette smoking, and some health warnings have now been
issued.

Agbonlahor is of course not the first sports professional footballer to be caught up in this kind of “controversy”, with Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere immediately springing to mind.

Wilshere, who spends most of his time on the treatment table, might have been better advised to stay out of the limelight, but it appears he is unable to do so.

Rather than concentrating on getting himself fit for the forthcoming European Championships, which England manager Roy Hodgson for some unfathomable reason says he could yet be a part of, at the weekend Wilshere was involved in an alleged “situation” outside a London nightclub at 2am.

At least twice previously Wilshere was photographed smoking conventional cigarettes, a fate which has also befallen others such as Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney.

Fellow footballer Rahim Sterling, along with Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton, have also been snapped partaking in the shisha on occasion.

While any form of smoking is now pretty much frowned upon in sport, half a century ago things were very different indeed. In a photograph of a team celebrating, be it footballers, rugby players, cricketers or whatever, at least half would very likely be pictured with a fag or even a fat cigar.

Some of the greatest of them all, such as brothers Jack and Bobby Charlton, Jimmy Greaves and Billy Bremner, were all hooked during their playing careers.

But while smoking, either through cigarettes or shisha, remains a habit no-one should want to take up, neither is it illegal, and more people would need to wise up to that.

Footballers do not choose to be role models, and judging by what has happened in the last couple of years with Ched Evans and Adam Johnson they can often be the last people who youngsters should be following.

Evans, Johnson, Cole, Wilshere and Hamilton probably all have one thing in common – to varying degrees they are loathsome individuals.

But they do not place themselves on a general lifestyle pedestal. That is the fault of others who naïvely believe that anyone famous is supposed to set an example.

A youngster wearing someone’s name on the back of their shirt should mean they admire the ability of that person – nothing less, nothing more.

There are plenty of sportsmen and women who are excellent role models, however, should anyone be looking for one.

From the world of football you could choose Didier Drogba, who has done unstinting work for charity in his native Ivory Coast, or someone such as Andres Iniesta or Bastian Schweinsteiger.

For a Scottish player look no further than to Darren Fletcher or Steven Naismith, both humble individuals who still play a vital part in the national squad.

Or in a wider sporting context what about athlete Jessica Ennis, cricketer Joe Root, rugby player Dan Carter or boxer Amir Khan – all of whom have kept their dignity despite being world beaters.

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Orkney’s senior hockey team lost 5-2 in the final of the Scottish Women’s District Cup to Milne Craig Clydesdale Western on Sunday.

The defeat, against the same opposition which ended Shetland’s hopes 5-3 in the semi-final, puts the performance of our players into context.

Similar to the Glasgow-based team, Shetland had progressed through the three earlier rounds without conceding a goal, but had scored 18 to Milne Craig’s even more impressive 30.

The semi-final victory over Shetland in Aberdeen at the end of February was partly due to the vast experience of the Milne Craig team, along with a few fortunate umpiring decisions.

The commitment to training over the winter by the Shetland players, with the new season due to start here on Monday, certainly appears to be paying dividends.

An inter-county victory has been overdue for some years now, but perhaps that can be rectified at the end of July in Kirkwall.

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Glasgow Rangers are back in the big time, with promotion having been secured to the Scottish Premier League thanks to a 1-0 win over Dumbarton on Tuesday evening.

Inevitably much debate followed during the next couple of days on whether the presence of Rangers in the top flight was a good or bad thing for Scottish football overall.

On balance, the game is probably the better for having the best teams in the best division. However, it could be argued that a year ago, when Rangers, Hearts and Hibs were all in the second tier, that league was all the better for it.

What I did find hard to take was the decision of BBC Radio Scotland to devote all of its Wednesday morning phone-in show to the pros and cons of Rangers’ elevation. But as someone pointed out, it is really Radio Glasgow after all!

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The efforts of SDM Promotions, and in particular Burra man Gideon Ward, to bring some of the best darts players in the world to the isles are surely deserving of praise.

The competitors and their entourage, after getting a taste of the vagaries of Flybe on the way north, by all accounts put on a show to remember at Clickimin.

The sixth Shetland Darts Masters, as Ward says, was a success against the odds, and the fact that such a small place as Shetland is able to stage tournament like this is truly amazing.

I am not personally the greatest fan of Michael van Gerwen, but there is no doubting the Dutchman’s finishing accuracy and scoring prowess, and he showed both to a delighted crowd on Saturday. Credit to him and everyone else involved for such a performance.

AboutJim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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