I love the Australian Open. Not for the tennis, not for the spectacle, but for the fact that once a year the world's best players lob Down Under and prove that you don't have to spit to play sport.
Spitting has become synonymous with some sports. Soccer players dribble as much with their mouths as with their feet. And AFL, rugby, baseball and even cricket are mouth-watering for all the wrong reasons.
Thanks to HD TV, never has spitting been broadcast in such graphic and glutinous detail. When I recently sat down to watch Arsenal v Chelsea I considered putting down spot cloths.
After watching that EPL match I am convinced it is physically impossible for a player to shoot for goal, be substituted or take a corner kick unless he's first launched a liquid projectile. It seems as vital to the game as the ball and goalposts. FIFA should put spittoons by the corner flags.
Some geyser who plays for Real Madrid.
In some cases spitting serves a purpose. When fielding, Australia's Test Cricket captain Steve Smith spits into his hands to aid grip should a catch come his way. And, let's face it, those catches usually stick. But then the former Australian skipper shakes the hand of his opponent after a match. No wonder batsmen wear gloves.
Bowlers are equally uncouth, spitting on the ball to shine it and then rubbing it against their groin. If they weren't playing our national sport they'd probably be arrested for public indecency.
"Remind me why you're doing that, AB?"
In other instances, spitting expresses a player's frustration. When a batsman is dismissed, during the long walk back to the pavilion he often spits -- either saliva or his chewing gum -- through the bars of his helmet and then belts it away with his bat. This is often a superior shot to the one that got him out.
On rare occasions, spitting is the sport itself. There is a Guinness World Record for cherry pit spitting, and if you're allergic to cherries then perhaps cricket spitting is more your thing. When I say 'cricket' I am not referring to the cucumber sandwich pastime but the six-legged insect, which you chew and then spew. Apparently there are also world championships in Kudu dung spitting. I have no idea what Kudu dung is but would hazard a guess I'd rather eat crickets.
Beyond the above exceptions, spitting is most often a mindless expulsion of mucous, an ugly habit that has become the norm. So much so that, a few years ago when SONY ran a TV commercial featuring kids playing soccer, one of those kids had a good spit. Sixty people complained about the commercial, but the advertising standards body ruled in favour of SONY, saying it was merely a 'brief portrayal of a well-worn habit that appeared between World Cup matches where players were likely to be shown spitting'.
Well that's alright then.
Pro spitters would argue that running around and physically exerting themselves increases the supply of saliva to the mouth and that they are merely ridding themselves of the pesky excess.
I spit on that theory.
Tennis players exert themselves as much if not more than footballers, and considerably more than goalkeepers. They play in summer rather than in winter. And with tennis being an individual rather than a team sport, players can't hide among teammates or call to be substituted if they're fatigued. Yet they somehow manage to refrain from decorating the court with drool. Indeed the only spat I saw on a court at the Australian Open was between Nick Kyrgios and an umpire.
Roger Federer doesn't spit. Roger Federer doesn't even sweat!
Roger Federer after a tough five-setter.
Golfers also manage to contain their excess phlegm. Apart from Tiger Woods, who gobbed on a green at the 2011 Dubai Desert Classic and was fined for a breach of the code of conduct. I found this hypercritical from the golfing powers that be. I mean, they're perfectly happy with bogeys but they draw the line at spit?
Of all the sporting codes, soccer has the biggest dribbling problem. I would least like to sit next to soccer on a long-haul flight. Yes, it's part of the game. Yes, it's been around for ages. But to suggest that spitting can't be mopped up is drivel.
Not only could we stop players spitting we could also solve the other scourge of soccer -- players diving on the ground and either feigning injury or trying to milk a penalty. If FIFA calculated the amount of times the average player spits, then multiplied that by the number of players on the pitch, then multiplied that by the number of minutes in a match, and then worked out how many swimming pools of saliva that equates to, rest assured the world's footballers would stay firmly on their feet.
Yes, even the Italians.
Despite my dislike of watching athletes spit, there are filthier habits to be seen on the sporting stage. The nostril evacuation, aka the 'Bushman's Blow', makes spitting appear positively genteel, as do the actions of marathon runner Paula Radcliffe, who stopped to pee on the road during the London marathon.
At the risk of appearing a prude, there's only one scenario in which spitting is acceptable and that's when the dentist asks you to do it. And then perhaps when you see the bill.