Monday 24 July 2017

Off the Ball: Darker picture making sport harder to love

John Minihan knew that once a photo was altered in any way, changed from the precise nature of what was actually witnessed originally, then people would rightly question what they were seeing Picture: Getty
John Minihan knew that once a photo was altered in any way, changed from the precise nature of what was actually witnessed originally, then people would rightly question what they were seeing Picture: Getty

Ger Gilroy

When we were messing around pretending to be journalists in college we always tried to get big-name contributors to lend a bit of stardust to our otherwise very earnest, very dull publications. It was good practice obviously.

Somehow we managed to convince John Minihan, the legendary photographer, to write a piece for a short-lived arts magazine called 'Alternate'. If you've ever seen a picture of Samuel Beckett, or that famous see-through skirt of Lady Diana, or a Native American being waked in Athy, then you've seen his work. He's photographed Jackie Onassis, Andy Warhol and loads more.

He was amazing with his time and shared insight and advice without ever patronising us. The piece he wrote was fairly glum though and I remember at the time wondering why he wasn't more enthusiastic about what was coming next. This was 1998 and he explained that the greatest challenge photography was facing was whether people would believe it anymore.

The impact of Photoshop was only beginning to be felt but Minihan knew that once a photo was altered in any way, changed from the precise nature of what was actually witnessed originally, then people would rightly question what they were seeing. It meant a new thing was beginning and something peculiar to its time was being lost.

As 2016 leaches away, I feel the same fears rising about watching sport now. Sometimes it'd be easy to stop watching entirely. I wonder if I'll pass on the great joy of lost afternoons howling at the telly to my kids. I'm pretty sure we'll always go to games, but the glitz and glam of the sports where there's money to buy the best drugs and fix the results?

The slow, steady drum beat of corruption, lies, drugs and cheating would make most people turn away if you paid too much attention.

Part of our daily meetings about Off the Ball always entail a juggling act on audience fatigue when it comes to doping or corruption or even some of the constant social issues that we want to cover but which bring no joy to anyone's lives.

It's always there in the background, gnawing away any time someone does something great or even mildly out of the ordinary.

Are those quick feet the product of drugs? Is that acceleration natural? How did they recover so quickly? That's a literally unbelievable time.

The 'Wow' of our youth is now replaced by a laugh that people think we're so dumb we'll believe they have achieved these things clean. Wow, you just knocked 15pc off a world record that was set by an East German - congratulations!

It's why all those moments from the past 12 months that you'll read and hear about and watch again in the reviews of the year matter. Store them in your hump. We'll need them.

Irish Independent

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