Cheers, Fears and Tears - Sport's Dysfunctional Role Models

09/07/2012 14:45 BST | Updated 08/09/2012 10:12 BST

In three days the Andy Murray caricature has gone from almost instantly dislikeable - moody, angry and seemingly spoilt Scotsman - to gracious, emotionally resonant British hero who, whether destined to win multiple Grand Slams or not, is beloved of a nation.

I would pat his PR people on the back but they had nothing to do with it. It was the boy who did it on his own. And that is the beauty of sport, in which all the most extreme emotions are on show at any one time.

I think we forget how dysfunctional the majority of sports people must be. We know that genetics and circumstance play a big role but we also know that practice makes perfect and to achieve such giddy heights you have to be, well, obsessive at the very least. Such desire and determination rarely comes from a happy place.

Over the next few weeks in London we are going to witness dreams being made and shattered in equal measure. It will all play out in front of a global audience. Euphoria, loss, joy and despair. We will find ourselves cheering for nations we have barely heard of. Some will be setting world records and winning gold medals - the smallest fraction - but almost 100% will be seeking personal bests. All will seek to perform to their maximum.

The Olympics will draw together the greatest gathering of global role models in history, each and every one a potential inspiration to the youth of their country. 14,000 of them, across 200 countries. It's pretty powerful stuff. But are we just watching a lot of dysfunctional people play out their torments in front of us? Do Andy Murray and his Olympic peers really need to be frightfully nice all the time?

I recently witnessed the most brilliant debate between an ex-professional athlete - the remarkable former NBA player John Amaechi - and a doctor who has spent his career caring for professional athletes.

The doctor argued that our expectations are too high. We raise sportsmen up without ever asking if that is right for them. The tag of role model is something that they do not aspire to and they have no obligation to act as such - we do not expect the same from lawyers, accountants or bankers.

The answer from the 6'10 Amaechi was more profound and moving, yet clinical and to the point, than any of us expected. "A sportsman has no choice in being a role model," he insisted. "Once a young person looks at you and says 'Wow, I wish I could do that,' you are a role model - the choice was not yours. The decision on whether or not to be a role model is not yours. The only decision an athlete has to make is whether he wants to be a good role model or a bad one."

That doesn't mean, though, that we should not give these young men and women a break. They have grown up with a singlemindedness that must, in so many ways, have affected the emotional journey that young people go on. And I am happy for Andy Murray - not just because he made the Wimbledon final but because he showed one of those remarkable moments which no performance coach, physio, technical advisor, or PR guy could plan or choreograph - he showed genuine humanity. Which, after all, is what we should really look to our role models to do.