We're all sport crazy... but for all the wrong sports
We are all sport crazy now. And if we are not there is something suspect about us. If you don't follow some English soccer club or other you are perhaps not a real man. And if you don't follow Gaelic games you're not a real Irish man.
Being sport crazy, naturally, has little to do with actually playing any sport. Many people who are particularly keen on sport have a physique that is not conducive to playing a sport and in fact have never run out on to a playing field of any kind. Their physique is conducive to sitting in a chair watching sport on the television.
That doesn't stop them wearing the kind of clothes that they might wear if they had been playing a sport. Which explains why visitors to Ireland often think we are a nation of sports fanatics. We are in fact just wearing the clothes: the tracksuit tops and bottoms, the shoes, and all covered in logos for the company that made the gear or the football club that the wearer supports. (As far as I know, this is done on a voluntary basis; no money is paid by the company or club to those who advertise their brand.)
I'm an occasional armchair sportsman myself but I don't wear the colours. Last Saturday I watched a bit of the Israel-Ireland soccer match. It was a poor enough Irish performance against a team that would be far from the best in our group. What was memorable about the game was the superb long shot into the Irish goal in the 90th minute. That and the gurrierism displayed by Roy Keane with the good kicking he gave an Israeli player. Why do we want to be represented by this?
Earlier on Saturday I stood on the Millennium footbridge in Dublin, as the senior eights of UCD and Trinity powered along beneath from O'Connell Bridge, smooth and strong, competing for the Gannon Cup. It is the Irish counterpart of the Harvard-Yale boat race or the Oxford-Cambridge. And as in the Harvard-Yale race, open-top buses ran along by the river, overcrowded with supporters of the two boats roaring and shouting encouragement. A TV camera on board captured the race for Setanta. Accompanying the buses up the quays was a huge crowd of bicycles, swarming as one, their riders also roaring and shouting, as if it was rush hour in Ho Chi Minh City. Gardai on motorbikes zoomed on ahead to hold cross-river traffic until we were past. Great excitement.
The team I was shouting for won (Arriba UCD!), in a terrific race. They led from early on, and held their lead, and their nerve, until the finish at Guinness's, below Kingsbridge.
Rowing is a noble sport. It demands the same peak of fitness as soccer does, if not more so, and the same levels of control, discipline and concentration, but there is no room for gurrierism here. Each member of the crew is entirely dependent on the efforts of his fellows. If one of them gets out of line, the whole performance falls apart.
I checked the RTE TV news that night, for the bit at the end where they say: "To sport now, and here's ---- with a round-up of all today's action." The soccer match of course. Then another soccer match, and then more soccer. In short, not a word about the boat race.
Nothing much in the Sunday papers the next day either. No pictures on the front pages, such as you would expect in Britain for the Oxford-Cambridge boat race. There was indeed a rowing picture on the front page of our sister paper and of the Sunday Times, but they were from Henley: pictures of the president's daughter Sara who was on the winning Oxford crew in the women's race.
You could feel some sympathy for the gardai who were complaining recently that they are being forced to give out tickets to motorists for minor speeding offences, in order to keep up perceived levels of prosecutions. They were worried that stopping drivers for driving one or two km/h over the limit was affecting their good relations with the public. Standing on those long straight roads with the speed detection gun was like shooting fish in a barrel, somebody said. Surely not. For the fish in a barrel, being shot is most likely a terminal event, whereas for the driver all that is involved is a caution, or a fine, or, at worst, a penalty point.
The strange thing is that you wouldn't think they'd been handing out tickets at all. Since penalty points were introduced, nobody seems to have got enough of them to endanger their licence. And apart from the initial improvement, the standard of driving is as bad as ever.
It is fair enough that the gardai would be keen to maintain good relations with the public, but they do have to have regard to the breaking of minor laws; though a relation of mine pointed out to me recently that historically it is not the function of the gardai to enforce the law but to keep the peace.
Still, within that remit, if they are looking for ways to keep up a satisfactory level of road traffic prosecutions, without standing on a long straight road with a speed gun, they could just place themselves on any busy junction in Dublin, and the prosecutions will make themselves. On any given day they will see, as a matter of course, drivers breaking red lights; drivers swooping in and out of cycle lanes; drivers parked on double yellow lines and clearways; drivers stopped on the advance stop box intended for cyclists; drivers breaking the speed limit. Book 'em, Danno.
John S Doyle