Tuesday 25 October 2016

Faint-hearted Hickey's neck is intact as always

In a week when our athletes taught us about dignity, no one was too bothered about bare-assed Pat Hickey's lack of it

Published 21/08/2016 | 02:30

Controversey: Pat Hickey is escorted by police in a wheelchair at the Hospital Samaritano in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Controversey: Pat Hickey is escorted by police in a wheelchair at the Hospital Samaritano in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Sport is only an excuse to have the Olympics. The Olympics is not, of course, really about sport at all. It's about people who have never watched a rowing race, or hurdling, or gymnastics, or indeed beach volleyball, in their lives becoming consumed with it. It is about people who might actively avoid watching two women box the head off each other, stopping everything to become deeply passionate about such a spectacle, if only for 10 minutes.

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More so than most sporting events, the Olympics is about the humanity, about the extremes of human emotions and human endeavour. It is a time when people who are not sports fans dip into the agony and the ecstasy, to see what all the fuss is about. And these young athletes are shamanic. They go to these places to which none of us reasonable people would go, to extremes of dedication and sacrifice. And they do it for four years, mostly only to see their dreams shattered in minutes, seconds even, with the occasional one of them fulfilling their lifetime ambition. And we get to drop in for the fun bit, the last few minutes at the end of the journey, to vicariously share the feeling. And most of them make little or no money for their efforts.

When people stop talking on TV or on radio, time passes very slowly. Any pause in the action can seem to stretch for hours. So it is hard to say how long it was before Katie Taylor could speak after she lost her fight on Tuesday. It could have been only 10 seconds, or 20, or 30. But it felt like a lifetime. It gave us time to ponder what was going on in her head, whether the cameras should leave her alone, whether they should come back when she had composed herself. But they didn't. Because, in some way, this was the sporting money shot. This was the agony, the passion. And the hurt and the confusion and the frustration in her face, her flawless face with those bright shining eyes, was possibly one of the rawest things we will see on TV this year.

And even in her hurt she seemed to speak in poetry. When she spoke of the losses she has experienced in the last year, she was talking about more than fights she lost.

And when she spoke of how the plans in your heart may not be the same as God's plans, there was an epic, biblical quality to her. And even in her hurt and pain, she did actually seem like someone in some kind of state of grace, someone whose god walked with her, someone whose god had, it seemed, forsaken her temporarily. But her faith was leading her to accept God's will, even as she struggled with the notion that she should, in her own words, be beating these girls.

And there it was, on a Tuesday afternoon, as most of us sat in our offices or in pubs or at home, taking 10 minutes out to watch this before going back to our lives, the finest piece of religious programming you could see. A young woman of deep faith struggling with that faith, struggling to accept her fate, and struggling not just with her faith in her god, but with her faith in herself, mankind, boxing, the Olympics and judging.

Michael Conlan's post-fight interview after he crashed out was epic too. The language was fruitier but like Katie, he burned with a righteousness that felt positively old-testament. Here was another young man who had put everything into crystallising four years of work into three rounds of three minutes. And here was a young man who had naively believed up to now that life was fair, and suddenly the scales had fallen from his eyes, in the most public and extreme circumstances. And he didn't give a damn who knew what was on his mind.

Conlan had beaten a fighter so badly that that they would subsequently be unable to compete in the Olympics - and yet he hadn't beaten him. And Conlan called out the whole rotten system that piggybacked on his sacrifice, and that made a mockery of his sacrifice. Innocence shattered, in front of our very eyes, for our entertainment and our shock and awe.

The O'Donovan brothers the week before, in their own way, were a fascinating study in their post-race interviews. They too had sacrificed all, but it had paid off for them. But they too were struggling, struggling slightly with not winning gold you suspected, and struggling slightly to take the whole palaver around it seriously, struggling with the notion that every word they said suddenly mattered and was being reported far and wide. And so they decided to just be themselves in it.

And then there was Annalise Murphy, who picked herself up after heartbreak four years ago, and instead of walking away, went again, and believed she could do it. And she did it, triumphing over seasickness and postponement of events on top of everything else.

All of them made you think the same thing. We give the millennials a hard time, but there is an idealism in these young people that is all too often betrayed by the generations above them. And they deserve better. They deserve better than ticket scams and greedy hospitality companies and power-mad sports administrators, all cynically turning their sacrifice into the only things that some cynical older people care about - power and money, perks and jollies and favours.

Pat Hickey was becoming like a Charlton Heston figure in Irish sports. He would relinquish his influence when we pried it from his cold, dead hands. And even after that he would keep a stranglehold on the Olympics in Ireland by passing on his OCI crown to his chosen heir. From ministers to troublesome athletes and rivals, Hickey had seen them all off.

Considering that he is, as far as we all know, an innocent man, there has not been an outbreak of national mourning over Hickey's plight out in Rio. Neither has there been much outrage over the undignified manner of his arrest, and the fact that footage of this bare-assed 71-year-old was all over the internet. Even the forlorn pictures of what is, suddenly, a weakened old man with a heart condition in a wheelchair did not seem to elicit a huge amount of sympathy. Perhaps because people feel that whatever the story about this alleged touting, and whatever the state of Pat Hickey's heart, his neck is still intact, and as like a jockey's bollocks as it always was.

And perhaps the lack of sympathy is also to do with the fact that we are pleasantly surprised to see policing work with urgency. We all know that if this had happened in Ireland, or even at the London Olympics, Pat Hickey and his arse and his belongings would not have been paraded like this. There might have been a polite request to meet discreetly for a few questions and Hickey would have seen off the cops the way he has seen everyone off down the years. And even if there had been evidence or suspicion, it would have all quietly gone away or it would have been kicked into inquiries that would have reported back quietly when everyone had forgotten the whole affair.

We are a nation who watched the men who ruined this country parade before the banking inquiry looking largely as if they'd just popped in from the golf course. And they sat and explained how it wasn't their responsibility and then went home to their fat pensions. To see someone accused of something actually being dealt with the way you would deal with a suspected 'common' criminal is quite refreshing to us.

And perhaps we have little concern for Pat Hickey's dignity right now because Hickey seems to contrast so sharply with the dignity shown by Katie, and Michael Conlan and the O'Donovans, And Annalise Murphy, and Thomas Barr, and Scott Evans, and all the other young people who gave years of sacrifice so that we could share a taste of their agony and ecstasy.

Sunday Independent

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