Wednesday 28 September 2016

Rory must look to the Master

Published 26/06/2016 | 02:30

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan

Rory McIlroy is finding out that when a man becomes a corporation, his life can get complicated. There was a time when he could speak more freely, when he could be thinking out loud or even idly speculating, without being nailed for it.

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But that time is gone, because now he is a corporation. And so when he issues a statement about the Zika virus keeping him out of the Olympics, people are "disappointed" that his enthusiasm for it has gone and they start mumbling about the several other reasons why a man in his position might not want to represent Ireland in Rio.

One of these theories - perhaps the most interesting - is that he's not from Ireland, as such. He's from Northern Ireland, which, for reasons that should be abundantly clear to all of us, is a different jurisdiction to the one in which we reside in this Republic of Ireland, as our country is known.

He was born and raised and had all his formative experiences in that other country, though of course we here in "Ireland" have an affinity with him because he comes from just up the road, and he's definitely some sort of an Irishman, albeit one who physically rejected our tricolour that was handed to him by some "character" on the last fairway of his first major victory at Congressional.

Moreover, he was to be seen in Paris on the day before "Zika", applauding the team from his native Northern Ireland, whose anthem sounded very much like God Save The Queen.

While the bureaucratic structure of golf on this island is "all-Ireland" in nature, athletes from Northern Ireland have traditionally represented Great Britain in the Olympics.

There are other reasons why Rory, the corporation, might not really need these Rio Olympics - he is not playing well, and perhaps he needs to practise his putting. His sponsors, Nike, would not have their logo associated with the Ireland Olympic effort - he's a professional after all, and personally, just speaking for myself, if I encountered all these little difficulties and added them all up I might well decide that in truth, and with the best will in the world, I just couldn't be arsed.

That would not be Rory's way, I am sure. But as he tweeted his alarm at Brexit, perhaps he was looking to another sportsman who became a corporation at a young age and who continues to display the kind of uplifting vision which is the mark of the master.

David Beckham did not have Rory's talent - not for sport anyway - yet the way he applied himself to the task of making himself into a valuable footballer displayed a gift that many more talented people do not possess.

It was still quite a stretch to imagine that the youth who first came to the attention of the masses by scoring from the halfway line against Wimbledon would one day make the most eloquent contribution to the debate on Britain's relationship with the European Union.

Yet that is what happened last week, when he countered the Brexit argument with what you might call the Becks-it vision.

"We were a better and more successful team because of a Danish goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel, the leadership of an Irishman, Roy Keane, and the skill of a Frenchman, Eric Cantona," he declared. And while it did not quite carry the day, it drew the terrible Michael Gove into talking about football, an area in which these people usually disgrace themselves, as Gove duly did by wrongly suggesting that Liverpool legend John Barnes, among others, was for Brexit - Barnes contacted Sky to insist that Gove was wrong, which would have embarrassed Gove if such a man was embarrassable.

I spoke movingly to a friend of mine about how impressed I had been by the contribution of Becks, to which my friend replied: "Yes, mate. Becks understands the markets."

Which could be taken as a put-down of the man's motives, and which was proved wrong by Friday morning when the markets went the other way and Becks did not follow them.

Somehow, when he was only a football player, he was able to imagine himself as this international phenomenon; he was able to parlay his sporting talent into something else altogether, due to what can only be described as a deep aversion to the dark end of the street, always looking to the bright side of the road.

Indeed, the fact that he was actually good at something in the first place - something that is really hard to be good at - is the first point that is missed by those who disparage him as a mere celebrity, "famous for being famous" as they say, thinking that that is a good line.

But it is not good, it is bad, and of his many contributions, perhaps the one thing above all the others that Beckham has taught us is that those who disparage him have no true understanding of human affairs - that only a genius could have got from where he started to where he is today, and only a fool could fail to see that.

Beckham would find a way of dodging the Zika virus and ducking the Olympics while using the controversy to somehow enhance his brand.

With Becks, we are never "disappointed".

Sunday Independent

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