Entertainment Television

Friday 23 March 2018

Television review: Long after the horse has Bolted

* World Athletics Championships (BBC1)
* Tyrone v Kerry (RTE1)

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Illustration: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Originally I thought someone was having a laugh. Someone on Twitter had posted this scene of the BBC commentary team at the World Athletics Championships celebrating madly as Usain Bolt won the 100 metres final.

They were really going for it, at least six of them up there in the grandstand, punching the air and leaping around.

Then I received confirmation that the BBC itself was happy to have these pictures released, and at that point we were clearly looking at a new situation.

Usually the BBC, in principle at least, tries to keep any "bias" out of its journalism - wrongly of course - yet in this case it felt that the greater good would be served by showing us these scenes of its team in Beijing openly coming out in favour of Bolt, and against the accursed doper Gatlin.

They were talking black and white, clean and dirty, right and wrong.

"Bolt has saved his title! He's saved his reputation! He may have even saved his sport!", Steve Cram ejaculated.

And it was indeed an incredible thing that had happened.

Bolt, who has never tested positive for anything but the love of life itself, had again run faster than Gatlin, had again shown his dominance over all known dopers.

That's the story. And what a great story it is.

In this murky old world you don't often get white beating black, clean beating dirty, right beating wrong. But apparently it happened last Sunday on the track in Beijing.

And no wonder the BBC people were so chuffed, because they would know their sport intimately. As I recall, TV commentators in general had somehow contained themselves during the Olympics and at other "meets" stretching back over the years, perhaps feeling that the evidence was not so clear as it is with Gatlin.

In fact there was a time when you could watch an entire season of athletics on the box without realising there had ever been a question or two raised in relation to performance-enhancing drugs in this arena.

But now at last the truth is out, and it can be spoken, it can even be celebrated.

The truth is that Justin Gatlin is bad, and Usain Bolt is good - wouldn't that make anyone want to jump up and down?

It is a truth so simple and so profound it is bound to be made into a movie some day, no doubt with a re-enactment of that scene of the commentators, the unsentimental realists themselves, unable to restrain themselves at the overwhelming greatness of it.

It will, of course, be a comedy.


Gaelic football is also struggling with moral issues, with various kinds of cynicism which have presumably entered the Gaelic bloodstream from other codes - diving and "professional" fouling and so forth, offences which may not be violent in the extreme, but which are dastardly in spirit.

And moral issues are never easy, particularly in the case of a sport which has always tended to resist the rule of law itself, to object at the core of its being to the imposition of rules and regulations of any kind.

Thus the more rules they seek to impose at "headquarters", the more impossible the situation becomes.

I dropped in for a while on Tyrone v Kerry last Sunday, and it was plain to see that all these morals and these rules are just getting in the way. The black card for a "cynical" offence is a terrible drag, though it seems appropriate that when the card is raised by the referee, it looks like he is holding up an old British passport.

And the paperwork...Jesus, the paperwork. Of the 12 minutes of championship action I have enjoyed this year, about nine of those minutes have been consumed by referees taking down the particulars of some player who is being penalised.

Some of these bookings are taking so long in terms of form-filling and general administration you'd wonder if "headquarters" are using them for data-collection purposes - the free kick will be taken 10 yards closer to the goal if you can't remember your PPS number.

So it is little wonder that all this bourgeois interference is forcing many lovers of the game to ponder the meaning of existence itself - or at least the existence of Gaelic football.

But it's too late to stop now.

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