Of Tennis, Politics and Freedom of the Press

I’m a tennis fan, though I don’t write much about it. I don’t watch a lot of TV either, but I do enjoy a match between top-level players. For some years now my favourite player has been Spain’s Rafael Nadal – and not merely because he’s left-handed. I was impressed from the moment he burst on the scene at the French Open as an 18 year-old in a sleeveless shirt and long bermuda shorts.

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Rafa hugs Uncle Toni after winning Wimbledon, 2012

I appreciate his gentlemanly conduct on and off court – his magnanimity in victory, and more recently, his graciousness in defeat. I admire the way he works on his weaknesses: learning English good enough to deal with even the most inane questions of the press gallery; and coming back with a more powerful service after realising his game needed it. After a lengthy period of illness and injury where Nadal saw his world ranking drop from 1st to 8th, he appears to have come back to his winning ways. In an age where mega-rich tennis stars pay for an army of coaches and support staff, and change them regularly, Rafa has stuck with his Uncle Toni through thick and thin.

So I am totally on his side as he brings a defamation lawsuit against former French sports minister Roselyne Bachelot who apparently accused the Spanish star of covering up a failed drug test.

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Who can know? But he looks honest to me

Nadal was quoted as saying, “Through this case, I intend not only to defend my integrity and my image as an athlete but also the values I have defended all my career.”

“I also wish to prevent any public figure from making insulting or false allegations against an athlete using the media, without any evidence or foundation.”

And isn’t he right? Mme Bachelot is apparently now a television show host, so I guess the question of press freedom arises here.

Well, I want you to know that I am a firm supporter of freedom in all its forms. The fact that I occasionally express contentious opinions on this blog must be evidence of this. However, it seems to me there must be limits to freedom of speech – and of course there are. All civilized countries have laws of libel and defamation. Clearly the issue of doping is crucial to a sportsperson’s ability to pursue his or her career. No one has the right to jeopardise that without indisputable evidence to support their accusation.

Surely the same is true for political leaders. I may think that the prime minister of my country is corrupt, a liar and a murderer; but if I come out in public and accuse him or her of these crimes – or bestiality and paedophilia, I’d better be prepared to front up in court and substantiate my claims, or face the consequences.

And no anonymous bunch of pseudo-leftist puppets calling themselves ‘Reporters Without Borders’ will convince me otherwise.

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