May 25, 2013
The shame game
If “One Moment in Time” (the 1996 Atlanta Olympics anthem sung by Whitney Houston, who died just four months ago) is a hymn to sporting glory (“When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away/And the answers are all up to me”), it also took just one moment in time to ruin tennis veteran David Nalbandian’s career on Sunday — a single rush of blood when a flying kick injured an elderly linesman, leading to his disqualification from the final of Queens tournament as the most immediate consequence. So why are we interested in an item normally found at the other end of this newspaper? Because of its dramatic impact, its timing and as a metaphor for Argentina.
Frustrating as this might be for serious students of international politics, the reality of today’s world is that we live in a culture (or should we say technology?) where the Nalbandian video on YouTube fascinates infinitely more people than, say, the United Nations Decolonization Committee appearance of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner last Thursday. YouTube hits normally fall into the “one moment in time” category (perhaps even falling short of Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame) but the Nalbandian episode is less banal than the usual levity involving a dog or a baby and designed to prompt an instant reaction of “How funny!”, “How cute!” or “How bizarre!” Part of the reason is the unfortunate timing — an Argentine sportsman misbehaving in Britain in the month of the 30th anniversary of the end of the South Atlantic war and a month before the London Olympics (circumstances which led the British yellow press to resurrect the odious term “Argie” even if Britain cannot really talk with such limb-breaking professional foulers as Norman Hunter or Graeme Souness in its soccer history or Andy Murray’s anger management problems in Nalbandian’s sport).
But the anniversaries also include the 10th of Nalbandian’s Wimbledon final of 2002 (like Queens, a rain-affected event with the Belgian Xavier Malisse as his semi-final rival) — a special moment in Argentine history with national pride shattered by economic meltdown (and also the Asian soccer World Cup fiasco around the same time). If Nalbandian has never returned to the final stage 39 Grand Slams later, Argentina has bounced back from the bottom since then only to punch below its weight in the world — not so much because of a lack of muscle as a propensity to slip through the ropes and leave the ring. Yielding to impulse instead of heeding the rules is not the best way of “racing with destiny” in either sports or world affairs.