Awards season is here. Suddenly we are all meant to care about fishtail gowns, cocktail dresses and tales of miserable musicals, zoo animals pursuing Canada and the search for a man in a cave. This weekend the British academy dole out the accolades at the annual BAFTA ceremony. Films about sport haven’t made the shortlist, they rarely bag prizes despite some rightly wearing the label Classic. Every other household has a copy of Friday Night Lights, Senna or Raging Bull.
There is much to love about a good sports film with its grit, resolve, ruined relationships, heartache and victory – better spend 90 minutes watching that than edging back from the brink of the Les Mis hopeless, gloomy drama.
Most movies focus on team sports (American football or Basketball), motor racing or boxing but fire up The Flying Scotsman, the story of world champion cyclist Graeme Obree. The script of his life has many of the qualities of a box-office hit – personal turmoil, troubled past, steely determination, and unorthodox approach.
Obree is bipolar so the film tracks how this psychological condition affects his chase to be a champion. His is no mug though, the Scotsman made things happen for himself, he set goals and he achieved what he wanted, overcoming bullies, uncertainties and disappointments to get there.
The physical hardship he endured naturally features too. Obree was competing at the same time as Chris Boardman and Miguel Indurain. He had the records of Francesco Moser, Ercole Baldini and Eddy Merckx to inspire him. To become a World Champion you have to beat the other competitors and you have to not allow yourself to lose.
But contemplate this; Obree did it all powered by jam sandwiches, no steroids, peptides or illegal performance enhancing drugs. At this moment in time it is difficult to think of professional cycling without conjuring up images of Lance Armstrong or his name struck off the role of honour. The stench of the shame of his deception, the extent of his betrayal and the lengths he went to to cover-up still hangs in the air but now the focus has shifted to the breaking news of a drug scandal that seems to be rife through Australian sport. Police there are investigating how organised crime units have been supplying banned drugs to athletes, fixing results and influencing betting markets. The findings of a year long investigation by the Australian Crime Commission have been revealed in part to show the current unethical and illegal behaviour across many codes and disciplines, which were described as still evolving. In a nation that takes so much pride in sporting endeavours and successes, these exposures will hit the people, fans, supporters and the country’s reputation very hard.
It is a far cry from World champions fuelled on marmalade sandwiches.