Friday 24 November 2017

The sport of kings can show our politicians the naked truth

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

In the parade ring before a big race, you can see trainer Aidan O'Brien attending to various routine duties. He may be wearing his top hat and tails at Royal Ascot, but he will be adjusting the saddle on the horse, making sure that everything is in order with the stirrups, a sort of a last-minute flight check.

It could easily be done by his travelling head lad, but O'Brien chooses to do it himself. It is an image which should be burned into the brains of everyone in public life, because it represents at least two qualities which have largely disappeared from that realm. It involves a chief executive openly taking personal responsibility, prepared to take the blame if it all goes wrong, not just the credit when it all goes right.

And it is a vision of a man who loves doing the basics well. Who knows that mastering the "simple" things is the essential ingredient in anything that is any good.

You can see a similar devotion when you watch the Italians playing football, which many of us were doing long into the night during RTE's coverage of the Confederations Cup. And when an Italian defender fluffed a back-pass to the keeper, resulting in a goal for Japan, we knew we had witnessed something extraordinary – it was a bit like watching Aidan O'Brien in the parade ring giving one of his horses a slap on the backside to send him on his way, so that he could resume some hilarious conversation with the Duke of Albuquerque.

It was so out of character, it merely reminded you of all that Italian know-how that we are so used to seeing, almost all the time.

But it's kinda sad too, that you see so little of these sustained levels of excellence, outside of sport.

If we had a Government which was similarly committed to doing the simple things properly, they would not be wasting their time and our time on the Seanad.

They would not engage in Byzantine levels of spin-doctoring in order to drown out dissenting voices. They would not be making a horse's collar out of the abortion issue – they cling to the line that it is massively complicated, but in fact, it is very simple. It must be left to the woman to decide.

It seems that they have tried every other "solution", and all of them have been ridiculous, or dangerous, or just an obvious lie. And still they avoid the right one, like the bad trainer bullshitting to the owners in the parade ring, while his horse is loose on the track.

***

So I look at all those fine young folk listening to Obama, maybe even looking admiringly at the G8 leaders in all their weirdness, and I suggest that if they really want to see something done right, by people of the highest calibre, they should be looking at Royal Ascot in the afternoon, and the football at night.

I say this despite the fact that it is not unknown now, for TV coverage to feature images of naked jockeys.

It is now the practice for Channel 4 presenters to interview jockeys in the changing-room. But for some reason, you don't actually expect to see naked jockeys. So it was a mild surprise last Wednesday when we got a side view of one such individual.

And moments later a woman, apparently there on business, could be seen entering the room in all her Ascot finery, with nobody passing any remarks – and no allusions either, to the hard neck one would need to make such an entrance in these particular circumstances.

No doubt the BBC, which now devotes its best energies to issues of gender balance, will be introducing this feature to its coverage of Wimbledon, with men and women equally represented.

***

It was Tim O'Connor, the former RTE head of sport who died last week, who put the great racing man Ted Walsh on television – also Eamon Dunphy and John Giles, just because they knew what they were talking about.

A simple enough vision there, for the public service, perhaps too simple for some. He didn't think they should be "trained", by people who knew far less than they did.

This, too, is simple: Tim O'Connor was the most important man in Irish television for the last 50 years.

Irish Independent

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