SPORTSMEN seem less and less inclined to retire gracefully. Gazza continues to make a fool of himself by saying he wants to play in the World Cup, Lennox Lewis is prepared to risk having his ears bitten off by Mike Tyson, and golfers go on forever.

After 73-year-old Arnold Palmer had beaten 67-year-old Gary Player in the Warburg Cup (a sort of Ryder Cup for geriatrics), Palmer spoke of the day in the late 1960s when Player turned to him during a round and said: "You won't catch me out here when I'm over 35."

To compensate for his lack of stature, Player used to build his strength by doing press-ups with his wife on his back.

With that amount of dedication it was never likely that he would suddenly hang up his wedge, and in any case the world is full of golf junkies who would be weaned off their addiction only by severe disability, as opposed to severe lack of ability, which is no deterrent at all.

I sincerely hope there was no money involved in the Warburg Cup - other than £1-a-man side stakes and 20p for birdies - but the mega-bucks involved in much of professional sport obviously persuade many to delay retirement.

Lennox Lewis must already be wealthy enough to spend the rest of his life in a state of advanced luxury.

But the prospect of a £20m-plus payday will persuade him to get into the ring with a cannibal whose attraction has much more to do with bloodlust than boxing skills.

Tyson might duck out, of course, which wouldn't be a bad thing in a country where mindless violence is now such an attraction that they encourage it on Jerry Springer's TV show.

There was a similar sort of banal provocation about the way Hasim Rahman questioned Lewis's sexuality in the build-up to their rematch, and there can be no doubt he got what he deserved from Lennox's perfectly-delivered farewell punch.

It was a blow with which to proclaim: "I am the greatest and I'm bowing out at the top."

But Lewis wants to fight Tyson, and it will probably happen. It will hardly be Ali v Frazier, but hopefully Lewis will come through it with his dignity, and his ears, intact.

NEWCASTLE United continue to encourage newspapers to wheel out the Capital Punishment headline through their inability to win in London, but they probably felt referee Eddie Wolstenholme should have been publicly flogged at Fulham.

Whatever the merits of the six yellow cards he dished out to the Magpies, he seemed to work on the principle that two wrongs make a right when he awarded them a dubious penalty.

As Alan Shearer followed up the saved spot-kick he was poleaxed almost as effectively as Hasim Rahman.

He was entitled to expect a rematch with the goalkeeper, but unsteady Eddie was having none of it.

Two of his colleagues were recently demoted from Premiership duty for similar blunders. But he seems to have escaped, presumably because at this rate there'll be no-one left to take charge of top-flight matches.

IT appears that Rob Andrew has been summoned before some RFU windbags to explain his comments in a newspaper article prior to England's game against Australia.

All he did was air his views about Clive Woodward's team selection and there were suddenly cries of "conspiracy."

Woodward needed only to point to the result for justification, but he fanned the flames and the game is to take another step towards outlawing freedom of speech.

Thankfully, Andrew has not yet been totally muzzled as he described the game against Romania as "a waste of time," which indeed it was.

The only good which can come out it is to remind the International Rugby Board that Romanian rugby is in desperate need of assistance to get back to the promising levels it had attained ten years ago.

THE government repeated a 14-month-old announcement this week that they are to invest over half a billion pounds into school sport, with the Prime Minister speaking of sport being "a key weapon in our fight against school exclusion, crime and drugs."

This should, of course, have been the case for many years, but in this country it even takes 14 months to decide how the money will be allocated, which was the real substance of Monday's announcement.

Nor were hopes raised when two days later it was revealed that the sale of playing fields, which had supposedly been outlawed, has risen by 60 per cent in the last year.

OTHER than Gazza's wish that Sven might want him for the World Cup, the quote of the week came from the owner of Quixall Crossett, who said that the hapless racehorse had come back from his 103rd defeat "spot on."

In that case we can presumably expect a first win any day now