Byline: LEO MCKINSTRY
SPORTS stars are a superstitious lot, a truth confirmed again this week by the revelations of the quaint, sometimes bizarre, personal rituals followed by several of the top tennis players at Wimbledon.
Jelena Dokic, for instance, wears the same top and skirt throughout the tournament, washing them each night in her hotel room.
Goran Ivanisevic is just as fixed about his routine, always eating at the same table in the same restaurant at the same time every day for as long as he stays in the championship.And Venus Williams is pining for her particular mascot, her Yorkshire terrier Bobby, who had to stay in the U.S.
Professionals in every other sport can be equally rigid and peculiar in their habits and personal rituals.
Rugby League player Mickey Edwards always puts a tiny model of Thomas The Tank Engine down his sock before each game, while British racing driver David Coulthard used to don the same pair of underpants before each Grand Prix.
The garment became so threadbare that he can now only take it along as a lucky charm.
It is easy to sneer at these behavioural aberrations, yet an attachment to superstition is just as prevalent in the wider world. How many of us do not feel a moment's anxiety if we break a mirror? Who can boast that their favourite number is 13?
I pride myself on being a sane, rational person, yet I always knock on wood when I talk about my beloved dog's health.
My head tells me it is absurd, yet my heart is fearful of the consequences of not doing so.
In our modern technological world, where science is king, it might seem odd that superstition, with its roots in ancient paganism, is still flourishing.
But its continued prevalence in our society says much about human nature.
For the reality is that we can never be as coldly rational as science demands. We therefore still find comfort, romance and hope in age- old rituals and lucky charms.
'It's not logical, Captain,' Spock would intone in the science fiction series Star Trek.
But we all need something more emotional, more mysterious to live our lives than the iron rules of logic.
On one level, superstition works because it is a kind of security blanket.
Following a set ritual, like wearing a 'lucky suit' or having a particular seat on the train, can put us in the right fame of mind for coping with the pressures of life, whether it be at work or home.
Routine often means mental stability, as highlighted by a recent survey of 1,500 office workers which showed that 49 pc of them always used the same toilet cubicle at work, even if another was free, while 38 pc always drank out of the same mug.
Superstition also provides comfort by promising us a sense of control over what we fear most - the unknown. And by far the greatest of all unknowns is the future.
Not only do rituals tell us what might happen, but more importantly, they tell us how we might influence the future by following certain paths. That is why all those primitive practices involving tarot cards, crystal balls, palm-reading and astrology remain so popular.
Belief in the fickle mistress of luck absolves the individual of responsibility for success - one reason why it is so popular among sports stars.
Failure is much more acceptable if it is down to misfortune rather than to personal inadequacy. …