Wednesday 22 November 2017

Vincent Hogan: Money always corrupts and that's just not cricket

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Last Friday night, I sat in a TV studio with two follically challenged gentlemen talking about many things, including an American footballer's hair.

Tommy Carr and Bernard Jackman embraced the irony pretty well it must be said. Quite right too, because there's not much point getting uptight over God's little mischiefs. I mean this column has ears the size of spinnakers, but we've never considered doing the school run in a balaclava.

Anyway, imagine a world where all of us had Brad Pitt's smile and a bone-hard, washboard torso. We'd be too preoccupied with the mirror to develop anything but an amoeba's personality -- the very misfortune, sadly, that seems to befall quite a lot of folk across the landscape of professional sport.

Tommy got talking on Friday about how a sense of entitlement seems to anaesthetise the privileged few to what most of us regard as everyday sensitivities. We were recycling the story of the Pakistani cricketers, you see, and that suspicious sequence of 'no balls' in the recent Test match at Lord's.

Actually, we were discussing the morality of newspaper 'stings' and the essential subterfuge sometimes required to unzip that kind of story.

This was one of those cases where the 'News of the World' could take the moral high ground of declaring their scoop to be unequivocally "in the public interest." After all, what they had uncovered was apparent fraud, not some hormonal footballer's latest infidelity.

Dispiriting

On any level, the story was dispiriting. But set against the backdrop of roughly one fifth of their country being under water and maybe 20 million people displaced, the very idea of Pakistani sportsmen so abusing a duty of national trust was breathtaking.

The fact that they were cricketers (representing a country in which the sport defers only to Islam in a hierarchy of faiths) took this one slightly off the Richter scale.

All of which inclined Tommy to wonder if, in professional sport today, some people really don't care about messing up anymore; if money just warps the nervous system so fundamentally, that dysfunction becomes inevitable.

Jackman, interestingly, didn't summon a strident protest. A career in professional rugby brought him into contact with plenty of men you'd be happy to see your daughter bring home to dinner. But I suspect he's seen his share of cement-heads too. The kind of chaps who make a wheelie-bin look intelligent.

Truth is, you can have fools in any uniform, the key to survival being the individual put in charge of them. As it happens, the cricketers in the dock aren't exactly big earners (they get roughly £250 a week), yet they represent a culture in which the benefits to accrue from 'spot-fixing' can be passed off by some as the rewards of a venial sin.

Which merely re-affirms how, in sport, money corrupts. Even the small stuff.

It doesn't take Cicero's insight to ascertain that successful teams are franked more by the character of their numbers than any cumulative quotient of skill. In professional football, especially, I have come across more than a few people who could make a ball talk, but had the IQ of a vase.

They got by because the managers in their lives, essentially, protected them from themselves.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings us back to cricket. You see, Kevin Pietersen is to face a disciplinary hearing into a foul-mouthed Twitter rant he delivered following his omission from England's one-day squad.

Apparently, he described the decision as "a f***-up".

Whatever happened to just knocking on the manager's door? Frankly, Twitter and this column have yet to reach conciliation on any level, which -- we accept -- is probably an age thing. Maybe some find it slightly empowering. After all, on transfer deadline day, Ryan Babel spiked a Sky Sports story, reporting him to have taken a helicopter to London for his imminent switch to either West Ham or Tottenham, by tweeting the words "Going nowhere!"

And a sports journalist's life would be a breeze if the daily news could be harvested from an ocean of such tweets. But "going to bed now, see you all tomorrow" (thank you Robbie Savage) isn't exactly the fuel for a back-page lead.

Put it this way, I don't imagine Michael Rice considered aping Pietersen's response after hearing he hadn't made Kilkenny's starting 15 for yesterday's All-Ireland hurling final. Actually, I doubt there's a tweeter within a five-mile radius of anywhere Brian Cody goes.

Because the essence of Twitter is ego, an assumption that your life is worthy of hourly bulletins. Which, of course, no life is.

Maybe there's a balance to an inter-county GAA existence right now that sits pretty close to the ideal compromise. Players are treated with a respect that was, for too long, withheld by dysfunctional county boards. They get professional care without any dilution of the simple honour associated for more than a century now with wearing a county jersey.

Pay-for-play would corrupt that. Irrevocably.

As it is, an All-Ireland final remains a reliable umbilical cord to our past. You could enjoy the humour of 87-year-old Mick 'Rattler' Byrne on RTE's 'Up for the Match' last Saturday night without ever feeling he represented a remotely different faith to that pursued by a Noel Hickey or Paul Curran.

If that's not something worth protecting, nothing is.

Irish Independent

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