So farewell Trenton Oldfield, sent to the slammer for 6 months for disrupting this year's Boat Race. Much as everyone seems to agree that he is a prize idiot without any meaningful cause except a desire to create a name for himself, there's been a bit of an outcry about the length of his sentence.
Although it might be tempting to remember Trenton as the slightly pathetic drenched figure brought from the Thames rather than the maniac who helped to ruin a race for which the rowers had trained long and hard, I applaud the outcome. 6 months - and remember, he almost certainly won't actually be inside for the whole length of the sentence - is precisely the sort of deterrent needed to stop other intellectually-confused bored people from deciding that instead of spending Saturday afternoon going round B&Q comparing pot plants, they will instead jump in a river in a near-suicidal act of stupidity, without a thought for the millions of others who will be affected by his or her actions.
After all, Trenton had the perfect way of dealing a blow to elitism, by changing his name to say, Keith, instead of jumping in the water. But he chose to protest in a potentially dangerous fashion, spoiling an event that is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people down by the Thames, and many more watching on television across the world. The worst crime of all was perpetrated against the rowers: we all know how boring it is sitting on an erg machine, so the only possible reason why they would have put themselves through a year or more of near-constant training can have been to get in shape for the biggest day of their lives. Trenton seemed to decide that this was good enough reason to jump into the river and ruin it for them.
The most ridiculous charge to be levelled against the sentence, including by the usually spot-on David Allen Green, is that it would have been more lenient if it were "a race between two polytechnics". It's hardly as if the Cambridge race crew came into court, waved their boat club blazers at the judge and then that was that. I speak from bitter experience, as when the celebrations after the annual Fives Varsity match between Oxford and Cambridge (crowd: 20) were curtailed by a negligent coach firm who failed to charge the battery of the bus waiting to take the victors home, there were no prison sentences. There was barely a mild grumble.
What matters is the size and importance of the race, not the schools attended by the competitors. Let's take another sporting event - say the Olympics - and imagine that a key race had been ruined by an idiot deciding to protest against not much at all. For equivalence of personal danger to the protestor, let's pretend that someone ran onto the field and plunged head first into the water jump during the steeplechase, tripping up the runners as he did so. Do we seriously think that the treatment would be any different? Would it matter if the runners had been to Eton, or had learnt to run in a poverty-stricken country?
The occasion is what counts - and an appreciation that if you don't provide enough of an deterrent, more and more people will start creating public dangers and destroying sporting events in the name of meaningless causes. Call this elitist if you will, but at least my name's not Trenton.
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