Sporting Life

Court controversy gives rise to a need for new stadium names

The personality of a stadium lies in its feel, its aura, its electricity, not necessarily its name. Indeed, inside Whataburger Field - yes, there is such a place - beefy geniuses might be found. We are discussing this issue because some folk wish to rename Margaret Court Arena at the Australian Open premises. Mrs Court, 74, you might have heard, brings up Hitler and plots when talking about gays. She's a pastor, clearly from another century, with a rather unforgiving choice of words.

I once played in Margaret Court Arena when it was called Show Court One. It felt less disappointing then. Athletes mostly don't care about class, or religion, or the backstreet you grew up in. At its best, sport dissolves difference. At her worst, Margaret Court endorses it. Greatness offers players a pulpit, but it's best used you think for kinder things.

Everyone has their own view of whether her name belongs on that arena: Is skill - she won a record 24 Grand Slam singles titles - sufficient or does character matter? Do only playing days count or the way you live an entire life?

I hardly care if it stays Margaret's court, but wouldn't it be fun if instead of these superstars we recognised smaller heroes. Imperfect people of course but whose deeds add a sheen to sport, who elevate the conversation instead of reducing it. And so, if I were the Commissioner of Naming, here's what I'd authorise:

THE MARTIN KAYMER STAND

The German golfer quietly spoke into a camera and asked people to lay off Tiger Woods, who has become an easy target for the righteous. Even the video of Woods stumbling during his arrest served little purpose other than to shame him.

On Kaymer's golf bag is drawn a sunflower - his late mother's favourite flower - with a petal falling off. He is a sensitive fellow who said the comments on Woods have been "unfair and very disrespectful" and was mystified that people would "kick him" when he was down. "Help him now the way he inspired us." A man who takes such a stand deserves one.


Singapore’s Ashley Liew Wei Yen crosses the marathon line in eighth place at the 2015 SEA Games after his act of sportsmanship during the race. ST FILE PHOTO

THE ASHLEY LIEW FIELD

In the home of a Singapore doctor of chiropractic named Ashley Liew rests a plaque which honours him. Because he honoured us. You know the story, right? In the 2015 SEA Games marathon he's with the leading pack of 12. After 5.5 kilometres there's a U-turn to be made, which he does but they don't.

By the time the marshals alert the others to their error, seconds pass. Liew is more than 50m ahead, he's done nothing wrong, he could widen the gap. But he slows "from race pace to Sunday morning jog". He slows because he's a Singaporean in a home Games where guests have taken a wrong turn and it's "ungracious" to run fast. He slows because he's a classy, elegant man. Forget the plaque, put his name on a field.

THE MUNTARI PAVILION

Sometimes you have to break the rules, take justice in your own shaking hands and walk off the field. Just to say enough to the fans who chant racist garbage, the players who let it pass, the referee who won't intervene, the officials who can't stop it.

On Kaymer's golf bag is drawn a sunflower - his late mother's favourite flower - with a petal falling off. He is a sensitive fellow who said the comments on Woods have been "unfair and very disrespectful" and was mystified that people would "kick him" when he was down. "Help him now the way he inspired us." A man who takes such a stand deserves one.

In a Serie A match, Sulley Muntari complained to the referee about the abuse but was told not to talk to the crowd. "I asked him if he had heard the insults," said Muntari. "I insisted he must have the courage to stop the game." The Ghanian pointed to his skin but received a yellow card for dissent. The insulted man was the punished one.

Muntari walked off but he didn't leave his team; perhaps by not joining him they abandoned him. Later he tweeted: "I am determined to fight #racism. Football should inspire respect for one race - the human race." For reminding us what the game should stand for, he deserves a pavilion.

THE NORWEGIAN HANDBALL HALL

Athletes do almost anything to get to the Olympics. Train and sacrifice. Protest and cheat. Not the Norwegians. They're just too cool. In a European Championship handball match last year, they're tied with Germany but lose in the last minute. Only to find out the Germans have an extra man on the field. This is protest material, this is outcry time. But the Norwegians, as olympic.org reports, realise the extra player didn't play a part in the last goal. So they bury every grievance and their chance for an Olympic place. Germany go to Rio and win bronze; Norway should win a hall.

DEL POTRO AMPHITHEATRE

Sport is fuelled by testosterone but occasionally embroidered by empathy. When Nicolas Almagro fell and wept and then retired hurt at the French Open, Juan Martin del Potro went to him, helped him, hugged him, sat with him, comforted him. On clay had come compassion, which is why this colossus deserves a coliseum.

Del Potro is formidable, Court is becoming forgettable. The best part of sport is that we get to choose our own heroes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2017, with the headline 'Court controversy gives rise to a need for new stadium names'. Print Edition | Subscribe