ROBERT HARDMAN: Yes, Andy Murray deserves his knighthood. But why on earth give it to him now?
Winston Churchill understood the potential flaws in the honours system. 'A medal glitters, but it also casts a shadow,' he said. 'All that is possible is to give the greatest satisfaction to the greatest number and to hurt the feelings of the fewest.'
Then he added presciently: 'The tendency to expand, shall I say inflate – dilute – the currency through generous motives, is very strong.'
And there can be few more glaring examples of honours 'inflation' than 'Sir Andrew Murray'.
Champion: Andy Murray with his wife Kim
At the ripe old age of just 29, the taciturn tennis prodigy of Dunblane is to be made a Knight Bachelor in recognition of his two Wimbledon titles and two Olympic gold medals.
That these are colossal achievements goes without saying.
I was sitting on Centre Court at the 2012 Olympic final and again in 2013 when he ended Britain's 77-year wait for a home-grown Wimbledon men's singles champion. There was a palpable sense of national euphoria.
But to become Sir Andy Murray, with many years of tournaments ahead of him, is just barmy. Don't take it from me. We know that Andy Murray concurs.
Last month, after he secured the year-end No 1 spot and there were calls for him to be knighted, he said he would be worried about spending so much of his life living up to his title.
'It's the highest honour you can get in this country,' he said. 'But I don't know, I feel too young for something like that. I'm still young and there are still a lot of things that can go wrong, I could still mess up and make mistakes – do stuff.'
I am not, for one minute, suggesting that Andy Murray does not deserve a knighthood. But just not yet.
Andy Murray lifting the Wimbledon trophy in 2016
And I am afraid the standard addendum – 'and for services to charity' – makes no difference.
Yes, Sir Andy has commendably taken part in many charity fixtures but they don't begin to compare with the charity work performed by some of the unsung, unglamorous names in the MBE cheap seats of this honours list.
The country's top honour should be at least vaguely age appropriate. As the ultimate accolade, it should come after an unblemished career – not serve as some supplementary trinket en route. (The word 'accolade' comes from the act of knighting with a sword – 'ad collum': 'to the neck').
The OBE which Sir Andy received in 2013, after his first Wimbledon title, was right and proper. And that should suffice for the moment.
Besides, every proud Scot will, I'm sure, want to take issue with one aspect of this new gong. For the formal list of recipients reads as follows: 'Andrew Murray OBE. (Surrey)' – rather than, say, Glasgow where he was born or Dunblane, Stirling, where he grew up.
Murray's year ended in defeat but he can look back on wins at Wimbledon and the Olympics
For the same reason, I also have misgivings about the knighthood for Mo Farah. Yes, he should unquestionably become Sir Mo at some point. But not at 33 and while he is still competing.
Indeed, what on earth is Andy Murray expected to receive if he wins his third Wimbledon – or his fourth? A peerage? An earldom? Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports? The Governorship of Gibraltar?
Although he has also won the US Open, he is not even halfway to equalling the eight Grand Slam titles of the greatest British tennis player in history, Fred Perry. And what did Perry get in return? A CBE? An OBE? He got nothing from a less-than-grateful nation.
Of course, there is little point in comparing the merits of individuals in the past and now.
When Churchill was talking about honours it was 1944, just weeks before D-Day. Ordinary men and women were performing genuine acts of astonishing heroism on a daily basis and yet most received nothing more than a campaign medal.
To equate their deeds with what constitutes a 'hero' today is risible.
But Churchill was spot on when he foresaw the dangers of honours 'inflation'. And that is precisely what has come to pass, largely thanks to Tony Blair.
Beguiled by the glamour of all those 'Cool Britannia' celebs whom he invited to the court of New Labour, he started garlanding all and sundry with baubles.
Murray had never dropped a set to Goffin but he could not find a way to beat the Belgian
Traditionally, sporting triumph was a reward in itself. National recognition would come later. But suddenly, the Blair government was desperate to bask in the reflected glory of others.
Hence the speed with which Sir Alex Ferguson was knighted in 1999, just days after his Manchester United team won the treble. The award was brokered by his friend, Blair's spin doctor Alastair Campbell, who has since admitted that it had been 'a very New Labour honour'.
Now there have been many weightier and more damning criticisms of the honours system than the elevation of Andy Murray.
That there is cronyism goes without saying. We will never have a perfect system.
For the most part, though, it works very well in honouring those who manifestly deserve it. But in twisting it to suit the celebrity whim of the moment, we demean it.
Andy Murray plays a forehand shot during his straight sets defeat by David Goffin on Friday
Most watched News videos
- Mariah botches New Year's Eve performance and storms off stage
- Man finally talks to wife after over twenty years of silence
- Dog so excited to see his owner he leaps into her arms
- Man goes crazy when he catches another guy in bed with his wife
- Giving us the puppy eyes: Guilty looking pug is told off
- An impressive start to 2017! Fireworks light up London's horizon
- Muslim taxi driver attacked by a drunken woman and her partner
- Bizarre! Objects fall off kitchen counters in 'haunted' flat
- Citilink pilot allegedly goes through security 'drunk'
- Backpackers 4WD rolls off car ferry in Queensland
- Sydney celebrates the new year with epic firework display
- Justin Bieber storms off stage during performance in Oslo