The television footage of Ukrainian swimming coach and father, Mikhail Zubkova, whaling into his 18-year-old daughter Kateryna last night may have been disturbing and reprehensible but was it totally surprising?

Swimming, more than just about any other sport, requires a degree of dedication that only exists in the most fiercely determined of teenagers. It is a sport made for overbearing parents who almost have to push bleary-eyed children out the door each morning to get their chlorine fix. So who can be truly surprised about the revealing nature of last night’s footage — that swimming, too, has its Damir Dokics?

While Liesel Jones and Grant Hackett may have wonderfully caring parents and stable home lives, the same clearly cannot be said of swimmers in less privileged parts of the world — such as the Ukraine, to pick one country at random. Worryingly, the only reason the incident came to light is because FINA allowed TV cameras into that section of the athletes’ area for the first time at a world championship. Without Channel Nine’s footage, that incident would have come and gone with nary a raised eyebrow. No-one would have known. Which begs the question: how often does this sort of behaviour go on behind closed doors?

Zubkova, a former European breaststroke champion who holds eight Ukrainian titles, thankfully had recovered enough from the ordeal to win her 50-metre backstroke heat at the Rod Laver Arena this morning.

Tennis, gymnastics and, increasingly, golf, are prey to the same syndrome. Careers in these sports begin early and fortunes can be made by the time the athlete’s friends are in the second year of a dental hygiene course. And because the prizemoney and endorsement contracts are so obscenely out of whack with what the rest of society earns, it is no wonder these sports spawn the parents from hell, with dollar signs spinning in their eyes.

The rogues gallery is largest in tennis:

Dokic, father of Jelena, Jim Pierce, father of Mary, and Stefano Capriati, father of Jennifer, have all made the news in the past decade for quite the wrong reasons. Now, a surge of Korean golfers – mainly young women — have hit the professional tours around the world, their fathers supervising their every move, cajoling them to their every session on the practice fairway.

The incident at the world swimming championships in Melbourne capped a pretty bleak fortnight for sport.

Bob Woolmer’s unsolved murder in the West Indies has cast a pall over the World Cup. The Pakistani team and management has been fingerprinted but allowed to leave the country. Now, police are looking for three Pakistani cricket fans who were in Woolmer’s hotel when he died. That, of course, came hard on the heels of the Ben Cousins fiasco, the former West Coast captain being suspended indefinitely by his club while he gets his drug addiction sorted out.

When did top-line sport become so ridiculously serious? Where is the modern-day John Landy who would stop mid-race and pick up a fallen rival? Or Keith Miller to deliberately get himself out to even up a hopelessly one-sided game?

A cricket coach is murdered, a teenage swimmer bashed by her father, sprinters and cyclists are routinely busted for drug-taking, a football champion – without any apparent teammate or club intervention — becomes hooked on “ice”.

In sport, they are all truly tales of our times.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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