Celebrity culture is a relatively new phenomenon, largely boosted by a rise in social media. Yes, celebrities have existed for decades. Yet they haven’t been under the microscope like they are today.
For athletes, the equation appears straightforward: the more pressure the culture applies to performers, the harder they will find it to perform. However, the facts don’t corroborate conventional wisdom. Whilst celebrity culture isn’t always helpful, it’s not the main hindrance in sports.
The Perils of Fame
Notoriety can make it tougher to focus on a task, whatever that might be. Case studies show that sports stars can crack, such as Roberto Duran’s iconic ‘no mas’ moment in 1980. The BBC Sports Personality of the Year odds indicate it’s been happening to Emma Raducanu since her current slump coincides with her being ranked at the favourite, with odds of 1.05. With her nearest competition in Spoty 2021 odds being Olympian Tom Daley at 11.00, Raducanu looks nailed on to win. There’s bound to be a drop-off, but it’s difficult for someone new to the limelight. This is reflected by first-round losses to Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Wang Xinyu, both of whom Emma was expected to dominate.
Weirdly, Emma is an outlier on the list because most nominated athletes are at the top of their games. Lewis Hamilton recently claimed a record-equalling seven Formula One world championships. Tyson Fury retained his heavyweight boxing belt by knocking out Deontay Wilder, and Adam Peaty continues to hold the top 20 times in 100m breaststroke. So, it’s hard to claim they’ve been hurt by their celebrity status.
Peaty even competed on the reality TV show Strictly Come Dancing. You could therefore argue some celebrities actively welcome fame as they can compartmentalise their personal and professional lives.
Without sponsorship, some professional sportspeople don’t get an opportunity to compete. British Athletics recently changed which athletes receive National Lottery funding, resources that are essential for performers to focus more on their job.
Thousands of people miss out annually. But the ones who don’t are often big names commanding column inches. British Athletics even categorises them as ‘Top-Tier’ contenders based on their chances of winning medals at major events. As a result, they tend to be the best in class, which in turn increases their chances of becoming well-known commercially.
Private funding takes this further, as the biggest companies only give money to the professionals who will raise awareness of their brands. Think Nike and Adidas. If the level drops, the backing will disappear. This means celebrity and performance are inextricably linked in many ways.
Choking is often down to pressure. Take Manchester United as an example. They were perceived as title challengers but are now seen as the fifth most likely team to win it after a poor run. When you compare this to 2020/21 where nobody thought they’d finish in the top four (they ended up in second), you can see how pressure affects individuals.
But this isn’t always the case. Different stimuli impact the choking effect, from loss aversion to working memory. For the latter, the theory is simple: the more information you can actively hold in your mind at once, the higher your chances of crumbling under the pressure. The good news for sportspeople is there are ways to deal with this, from practising under pressure to being decisive.
This explains why the likes of Usain Bolt and Lionel Messi can perform consistently despite being some of the biggest celebrities in the world. Celebrity may not directly help performance levels, but the above highlights why it doesn’t necessarily hinder it either.
- As per the Public Gambling Act of 1867, all Indian states, except Goa, Daman and Sikkim, prohibit gambling
- Land-based casinos are legalized, with certain guidelines, in Goa and Daman, as per the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act 1976
- Land-based casinos, Online gambling and E-gaming (games of chance) are legalized in Sikkim under the Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulation) Rules 2009
- Only some Indian states have legalized online/regular lotteries as per and subject to the conditions laid down by state laws. Kindly refer to the same here
- Horse racing and betting on horse racing, including online betting, is permitted only in a licensed premise in select states. Kindly refer to the 1996 Judgement by the Supreme Court Of India here and for more information
- This article does not endorse or express the views of Qrius and/or any of its staff.
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