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Dublin: 11°C Wednesday 14 April 2021

TV Wrap - Sport and politics mix as PSG follow Golfgate onto centre-stage

Unlike BT Sport, Virgin and RTÉ didn’t shirk the big questions involving Qatar and PSG, at the end of a week which showed Official Ireland’s true attitude to sport.

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN’s journey to the Champions League final has forced us all to examine the mingling of sport and State. 

So after Richie Sadlier taught the world about the sly and dubious art of sports washing, Virgin Media didn’t shirk the topic in their big-match build up. 

“The world’s most uplifting form of public entertainment has been used as a nakedly political tool by a morally questionable state governed by a super-rich inherited monarchy”, quoted Tommy Martin from The Guardian, and Brian Kerr teased out the morals of the thing. Who has the right money and who has the wrong money? Or is there such a thing as the right money? Or, indeed, the wrong money?

It was a topic deemed too unimportant (or too important) to be covered on BT Sport. 

But these last few days have also shone a light on our own State’s attitude to sport, and alas, reader, it is not encouraging, it is not encouraging at all. But then again the signs were bad from the moment sport was lumped in with Catherine Martin’s vast brief at the Department of The Oversold and The Underfunded.

We’re not talking here about the Irish government manipulating sport to subtly spread our message and gain influence around the world: there’s no evidence we’ve ever tried to do that and, even if we were to try, Saturday’s latest example of The Brits Claiming Katie Taylor is proof of the awesome forces of ignorance we must contend with. 

No, we’re talking as to how the present government – or Official Ireland, to steal a phrase – really consider sport here. 

It began on Tuesday, as sports bodies were caught on the hop by the news that their games would be going back behind closed doors, and were then aggrieved at its cack-handed communication.

That it took until Thursday to get clarity on whether a parent could accompany their child to training was absurd, and an insult to the innumerable volunteers who have worked so hard to allow sport to be played in a pandemic. 

While we should be glad sport can be played at all at the moment, that gratitude doesn’t negate the fact people integral to making games safe deserved more respect than the communication failure they were met with last week. 

The GAA were understandably irked, but they didn’t cover themselves in glory in how they chose to air their grievance. While praising the GAA’s response to the pandemic, Donal Óg Cusack said he “wasn’t overly comfortable” with a public statement adressed to Dr. Ronan Glynn and NPHET. 

“Maybe the GAA were pandering slightly towards the more populist-leaning elements within their own association.” 

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We now have a kind of officially-endorsed hierarchy of social needs in the time of emergency and attending sport is down the list, meaning going to a GAA game is officially deemed less important than going to Mass, a pretty bracing reality for an organisation that once had bishops kicking off All-Ireland finals. 

Rarely has the GAA seemed so separate from the establishment as it did last week, which at least devalues the old,‘To understand Irish politics you must first understand the GAA’’ credo. (Although to understand Irish politics at the moment you’d need to understand Finnegan’s Wake.)

It wasn’t just the GAA’s sports who had a bad week.

First Stephen Donnelly went on Virgin Media News to deal a blow to competitive trampolining and then, of course, there was the golf.  

Few sports have as high a threshold when it comes to the shenanigans of officialdom as golf does, but even it is close to being brought into disrepute by the kind of omnishambles that leads to Fianna Fáil justifying partition. 

The sport and its social architecture have taken some of the heat in the last few days, to the point that somebody in my Twitter mentions called for the government to henceforth bar all public representatives from holding a golf club membership.  

The Oireachtas Golf Society, meanwhile, has been disbanded. 

Golf has always acted as a solvent for otherwise separate spheres of money, influence, and ambition, but in Clifden, the golf wasn’t the problem.

The problem was The Big Dinner.

The game is often indistinct from the bullshit that goes around it, but while it can be difficult to see the four-woods from the grandees, many of you embracing a largely safe and socially-distant sport in this nightmare will know there’s a lot more to golf than the establishment’s Big Dinners, bullshit and celebratory George Foreman grills.

The course exposes and weakens everyone’s sense of confidence and self-regard with its maddening expanses and claustrophobic hazards, with the country clubs and the partitioned hotels a kind of cosy well at which from which everyone can replenish their esteem. 

The course is there to make you feel small; The Big Dinners are there to build you back up again. 

It’s so different out there on the course that the golfer, wrote John Updike, is “habituated to humiliation.” 

And he is right. It’s just a pity there existed an Oireachtas Golf Society so committed to humiliating the rest of us. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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