independent

Thursday 2 October 2014

Politics is the greatest spectator sport ever

AIDAN O'CONNOR

Published 21/06/2011 | 15:07

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' WOULD YOU not write a sports column sometime Aidan? Sure we're sick to the teeth of politics and you ranting on about Fianna this and Fianna that and Minister X and Senator Y. Give the people what they want man.'

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It must be the question I've been most frequenslty asked: Why don't you write about sport? Even a young man in the US asked the same question last week. The funny thing is, in my own mind, I've been writing about sport for over 10 years. Politics. It's the greatest, goriest, bloodiest, most exciting spectator-friendly sport ever watched by man.

Our enlightened friends in the US learned about the similarities between sport and politics many years ago. Despite inheriting a very complicated and cumbersome Presidential election process, they've managed to turn it into a spectator sport. No sooner are the ballot boxes opened when even the Paddies are suddenly self-annointed experts on blue states and red states; where the Republicans are strong and where the Democrats are weak. You'd swear we knew something about it all.

The truth is, it's just another spectator sport for us. The Irish love their sport, and it doesn't matter whether it's All-Ireland Final day in Croke Park or the race to the White House. Once there's competition and personalities, bring it on, baby.

Despite all the cynicism that has engulfed the Irish electorate, we still love a good political battle. Relative to most other developed countries, our turnout at election time is pretty good. But the drama that surrounds count centres all over the country at election time is matched in few other places around the world.

As much as we pretend to justify our interest by claiming undying satisfaction in watching successful candidates make their way to parliament, we equally find a little bit of glory in watching a few others fall from grace. It's a bit like watching the really bad contestants on American Idol or X Factor, You kind of fool yourself into half-feeling a bit sorry for them, where really we get a sort of sick satisfaction in seeing people who put themselves before the public make a complete muppet out of themselves.

So party nominees and other candidates prepare to do battle once again for the race to elect a president of our little country, book your ticket and take your seat ring-side once again for another few weeks of bloodsport at its best.

Funny enough, politicians have been spindoctored into believing that the Irish people are sick and tired of public representatives bitching and moaning and snapping at one another's heels like spoilt pups in a dog kennel. They've come to believe, wrongly in my view, that voters want no more splits or arguments. Political correctness gone mad has taught them that the Irish electorate want some sort of a sense of unity of purpose when it comes to politics.

Well, they're wrong, so terribly wrong. Becasue if you believe that politics really is the greatest sport on the planet, then appealing for unity and consensus is the very same as asking Donal Og Cusack to puck the sliotar into his own net. It's as outrageous as telling Rory McIlroy to ask his playing partner to take a winning putt for him in a US Open final round. Imagine telling the Irish Rugby squad before a Grand Slam title match against England to walk onto the pitch, embrace their opponents and go on to play in the same direction as them for the entire game.

Well, politics is no different. They're in it to win, and you win whatever way you can, supposedly however the rules allow. Remember, it is a full contact sport and nice guys come secod.

As long as man is on this planet, competition will flourish. Were any given sport, forensically analysed , how it requires us to behave is totally alien to sophisticiated man. Think about it. Think about golf, for example. A grown, intelligent man or woman, hitting a small, white, round object down a field with a stick, walking after it, losing it, finding it (perhaps), hitting it agian with a different stick and eventually picking it out of a little hole in the gorund. Why not walk straight up to the hole with the ball and just place it in the cup? Because, of course, the fun's in the battle.

For this presidential election at least, change your spectacles and how you see politics. Think of it like a good horse race. Study the form. Think how the conditions of the country and its people might affect the pace and the outcome. Look at each candidioate as you would a beast in a stable and ask yourself: Is he or she just a good point-topoint horse or really Derby or Gold Cup material? Would Pat Cox really last the pace were he to get the nomination, or would he fall, like the favourite David Norris, at the very first fence? Will Gay Mitchell's breeding have a say in the outcome at the end of the day? Or perhaps you're one of those who thinks they should all be hauled out of the starting stalls before the race even starts and just brought straight to the factory and shot.

Whichever way, it's not so much what politicians do, it's how they do it. It's a form of sporting reality TV. And no more than sport, there are winners and losers, amateurs and pros. The trouble is, for most, sport won't quite determine whether or nor your kids get fed next Tuesday or whether or not your blind grandmother will get any State support so that she can live a half-decent life. But politics will decide. It will shape and it will steer. The stakes re exrtremely high – not just for those playing the game, but those watching as well.

Perhaps the most unique thing of all a bout politics, the sport, is that the spectators are central to the action. Like it or lump it, it's them against us. Every man for himself and the Lord for us all. Game on.

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