No, Andy Murray doesn’t deserve a knighthood (yet)

Picture of Andy Murray, a white man wearing a black Adidas T-shirt, holding a silver trophy.Sir Andy Murray? David Cameron backs knighthood | Sport | guardian.co.uk

So, Andy Murray finally won his first Wimbledon title, and Britain’s first men’s singles Wimbledon title since 1936 (as has been widely pointed out, there have been British titles in other Wimbledon disciplines since then, including the women’s singles and mixed doubles, the latter won by none other than Jamie Murray, Andy’s brother, in 2007). Almost immediately, it started being suggested that he might receive a knighthood, including from David Cameron this morning, but I was asked by a friend on Twitter if he had received a knighthood yet and whether the royal baby was going to be called Andrew. (The answer is that royal babies often have several names, more than the two that most commoners have, so Andrew might be in there somewhere.)

The problem is that Murray hasn’t proven himself as a ‘great’ tennis player yet and the knighthood is meant to be the greatest honour this country can confer on someone. I regard the knighthoods and damehoods given for early athletic achievements in young people to be somewhat inappropriate. It does seem that the threshold for getting one has been getting lower and lower. A few years ago it would have been suggested that he receive an OBE, but if you give someone a knighthood just for winning Wimbledon, or for winning a clutch of golds at one Olympiad, what do you give them when they achieve more than that?

Although Murray is ranked second in men’s tennis, he is not one of the great players, at least not yet. He has won two major tennis tournaments and one Olympic gold. In the 1990s, Pete Sampras won 14 majors and the greatest players of the current period are Rafael Nadal, who has won major tournaments on twelve occasions (mostly the French Open) and Roger Federer, who has won 17, including seven at Wimbledon. Even Novak Djokovic, who Murray beat in the Wimbledon final, has won six majors (all except Paris). On this occasion, neither Federer nor Nadal made it even to the fourth round, in Nadal’s case partly because of injury but also perhaps because both are past their peak, as demonstrated by Federer’s slip in the ratings to fifth for the first time since June 2003. Only time will tell how Murray holds up against Djokovic, del Potro and even Nadal.

The rapid calls for a knighthood shows how the British public and media value fame over achievement. The best of British sportsmen are often world mediocrities and we have a history of poor achievements going back decades, often accompanied by a sense of entitlement in that we feel we “invented” the sport, that many great sporting venues (such as Wembley Stadium and Wimbledon) are in the UK and therefore have a right to always be at the centre of them. We often mistake fame for greatness, and when someone shows a spark of brilliance, we treat them like they must be among the greatest. Scott Harris wrote last year about how there were serious suggestions that David Beckham light the Olympic flame, when it was “not a consolation prize [but] the greatest honour British sport will be able to bestow for perhaps a hundred years” and there should have been only one contender, Sir Steve Redgrave, who had won five golds at five consecutive Olympiads and was quite possibly the greatest living Olympian before the 2012 games, and is British. Beckham’s achievements were modest by comparison, and he would not feature in an all-time England or Manchester United squad.

So an OBE may be appropriate for Murray in the next lot of honours, by which time there will have been another major tournament (the US Open). A knighthood is premature: let’s see how many majors he wins over the next couple of years and what else he does outside actually playing. Honours for sportsmen are generally given for “services to sport”, but merely winning a few matches shouldn’t be enough for that.

Image source: Wikipedia.

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