Friday 18 October 2019

Hold the back page: All there in black and white

Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Sergio Garcia is an eejit. Not that I've anything against eejits. Some of my best friends are eejits. (Actually they're not but that's what you say in situations like this, isn't it?) As far as I'm concerned, eejits are entitled to the same rights as the rest of us. Live and let live, I say. I just wouldn't like one marrying my daughter or moving next door to me.

But is he a racist? The first reaction of every public figure who makes a racist comment is to assure the public that they're in no way racist. Unfortunately, racism is as racism does. And these days, when all but the most extreme right wingers have learned to mask their bigotry by presenting it as simple common sense and free speech, nobody is foolish enough to proclaim their racist status. So we can only judge people on their actions.

You don't have to be leading a posse of hooded men through the night to burn down African-American homesteads to be a racist. You can, for example, resort to racial slurs when engaged in an argument with someone who's a different colour. And that's exactly what Garcia did at the European Tour's awards banquet last Tuesday when, responding to a question about his current feud with Tiger Woods, he said, "We will have him round to dinner every night. We will serve fried chicken."

Perhaps the outstanding proof that this was indeed a racist remark lies in the predictable reaction of the usual internet bigots who were quick to flood newspaper comments sections with assertions that it wasn't racist at all. As usual, they made the argument that blacks are far too quick to take offence, that political correctness has gone mad and that blacks don't have the right to give out about white stereotyping. In other words, you had racists arguing that a remark wasn't racist by making racist remarks.

These are the same brain donors who were quick to argue that Aaron Cunningham, Lee Chin and other non-white GAA stars should accept racist abuse because it was just the same as being called a "red-haired bollocks" or something like that. The GAA knew better and moved quickly to stamp out racist abuse. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence should know better.

Garcia's comment was meant to be insulting because it very deliberately reflected the comments of Fuzzy Zoeller after Woods' historic Masters win in 1997 when he became the first black golfer to win a Major. That Woods won it at Augusta National where 22 years earlier club chairman Cliff Roberts had said, "As long as I'm alive golfers will be white and caddies will be black," was obviously too much for Zoeller to stomach so he came out with the comment, "You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it? Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve."

We got it Fuzzy. The 'they' is the killer line there. Because Tiger's always been one of 'them' in golf. That's why after he reacted to the Garcia comment by saying that he found it 'hurtful', the keyboard warriors were arguing that Tiger had no right to take offence, apparently on the grounds that he'd had a lot of sex in recent years. But the bottom line is that if Tiger found it offensive, it was offensive. You don't get to choose how other races react to your comments. It doesn't work that way. In fact, the spectacle, as often happens after incidents of this nature, of white people telling black people what they're allowed to find offensive is condescending, patronising and, yes, racist.

Imagine that an African-American couple are visiting Ireland. They pop into a local shop to ask the location of a decent restaurant. "The one in Main Street is very good," says the shopkeeper, "but ye mightn't like it. They don't serve fried chicken." They go down to the restaurant and when the waiter arrives with the menus, he shouts to the kitchen, "Give me two plates of fried chicken and a couple of slices of watermelon. Only joking folks, what'll ye have?" When they get up for breakfast, their host says, "Sorry about this boy but we have no fried chicken this morning. I hope the Irish breakfast will do."

Will the couple (a) feel that the Irish are a gas bunch altogether and laugh along with the jokes or (b) feel deeply insulted and vow never to visit here again. If you can't see why (b) is the only possible answer, I suggest you stop reading now.

So Sergio Garcia comes across as an eejit and a racist. And a whinger, given that the feud was caused by his assertion that Woods distracted him by taking out a club while Garcia was in the middle of his backswing at the second hole of his third round

at the Players Championship, when in fact TV footage shows that Garcia was merely standing over the ball when the incident occurred. And a cry-baby because he said the incident spoiled his round even though he had another 16 holes to play. And a sore loser because the whining continued when Woods won the tournament after Garcia blew up while level with two holes to go, hitting three balls into the water and finishing quadruple-bogey, double-bogey.

But enough about a man who, blessed with the kind of natural gifts which could have seen him become a real rather than an imaginary rival for Woods, has instead failed to win a single Major and has been outside the world top 10 since 2009, currently sitting at number 39. What about the golfing authorities?

Well, as far as the PGA and the European Tour are concerned, Garcia doesn't deserve any punishment. He said sorry and that's the matter finished. Two organisations which regularly levy fines for minor breaches of the rules don't think Garcia deserves even a slap on the wrist. Which leaves us with the conclusion that they regard club-throwing as a far more serious offence than racism.

After all, Zoeller also escaped punishment, as did Tiger's former caddie Steve Williams when he suggested at a dinner in 2011 that Woods was a "black asshole". In almost any other sport a comment like that would have drawn a heavy penalty. But golf is different.

The basic reaction within the game is that while it's a pity there's been such a fuss about the remarks, Tiger should just suck it up. But then the golfing fraternity have always been at best ambivalent about Woods' status within the sport. There's always been a racial element to the exaggerated hand-wringing over his on-course behaviour. And what comments like those made by Zoeller, Williams and Garcia are intended to do is remind Tiger that he's a black man in a white man's game. There's a reason that two per cent of British golfers, as opposed to 18 per cent of British footballers and 29 per cent of British cricketers, are black or Asian.

By their decision not to impose any sanction on Garcia, the PGA and the European Tour have given succour to racists everywhere.

I suspect they won't be losing much sleep over that.

Wrestling giants once ruled world

He might have been 17 inches shorter than Giant Haystacks, but no one was bigger in the world of British wrestling than Mick McManus, who died last week aged 93. McManus, whose outfit and stiffly lacquered hair were the same stygian shade of black, was the sport's ultimate bad guy.

The Man You Love To Hate's battles with the ultimate good guy, Jackie 'Mr TV' Pallo, were the sport's great showdowns, drawing an incredible 20 million viewers one Saturday in 1962, a bigger audience, legend has it, than the Spurs v Burnley FA Cup final which followed it.

McManus was still gripping and grappling in the 1970s when youngsters of my generation happened across the weird and wonderful world of TV wrestling. In fact, his 26-year career was the longest of any wrestler, which may have had something to do with his day job as a booker for Dale Martin Promotions, where he arranged the weekend's pairings and, more importantly, the results.

knowing that the wrestling matches were choreographed rather than contested didn't really spoil your viewing. Because the world that McManus, Pallo, Kendo Nagasaki, Adrian Street, Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy inhabited was less the world of sport than that of variety and light entertainment. Their peers were not Kevin Keegan, Gareth Edwards and Clive Lloyd but Eric Morecambe, Tommy Cooper and Les Dawson, entertainers of genius who'd transcended low-rent beginnings to become the darlings of millions.

Mick McManus, after all, was himself a fictional character, having been born William Matthews in south-east London. His villainous persona was expertly created, tirelessly skirting the possibility of disqualification, ever ready with sneer and scowl, giving off a remarkable air of menace for a man who stood just five foot six inches and weighed 12-and-a-half stone at his peak, outraging the brolly-waving old dears at ringside, knowing that nothing says toughness and villainy like a good old Irish name.

He was one of the icons of World of Sport, ITV's Saturday afternoon show which thrived on a diet of sports at one remove from the mainstream. It was the domain of Evel Knievel, of the speedway stars Ole Olsen and Ivan Mauger, of hot dog skiers, stock car racers and surfers.

I miss the light-hearted, almost camp, spirit of World of Sport these days when TV sport is monotonously serious and portentous with a martial comparison ever ready on the lips of presenter and pundit. But given that variety has made a big comeback with the likes of Britain's Got Talent and Celebrity Come Dancing, perhaps a wrestling renaissance on terrestrial TV isn't beyond the bounds of possibility.

And I hope that as Mick McManus reached the pearly gates, an irate old woman who'd waited years for the opportunity rushed out and beat him furiously with an umbrella as punishment for his serial offences against sportsmanship. It's what he would have wanted.

Bad refs dragging good league down

On Friday of last week with eight minutes left in the League of Ireland match between his team and Shamrock Rovers, Andy Mulligan of Bohemians went to clear the ball in his own penalty area. He miskicked and the ball flew up and hit him in the face. Mulligan rubbed his face with a mixture of embarrassment and pain. And referee Neil Doyle awarded a penalty. Check it on the 'net if you haven't seen the incident. It's a hoot, as long as you don't care about the League of Ireland.

It was ludicrous, it was laughable and it was sadly typical of refereeing in the League, an alternative universe of officiating.

Leading players were quick to pour scorn on Doyle. "Shocking decision from Neil Doyle killed Bohs . . . " tweeted Keith Ward of Dundalk, "I'll say it again . . . wow Neil Doyle wow," quipped Evan McMillan of Sligo Rovers, while his team-mate Alan Keane wondered, "How the fuck does he get all these TV games . . . "

It's a good question but perhaps the answer is that Neil Doyle, in my opinion having seen him in action, is no worse than most of his colleagues. After all, a couple of weeks earlier we had a similar moment of madness in Drogheda.

The home side were defending a 1-1 draw in injury time against St Pat's when Pat's striker Christy Fagan handled the ball in their penalty area. Tom Connolly not only didn't penalise Fagan, he gave him a penalty, perhaps being under the impression that the Pat's player was playing for Drogheda. Killian Brennan converted to give Pat's a 2-1 victory.

Sligo Rovers have also been at the receiving end of questionable decisions this season, suffering three sendings-off in successive weeks. Don't take my word on that, I'm biased. The Monday Night Soccer panel thought the same thing.

It's always been like this and it drives fans, players and managers nuts. Referees make mistakes. They're only human. But refereeing standards in the League of Ireland are deplorable compared to those in the country's other main sports.

But I've followed and loved this League for 40 years, season in season out, and I think we deserve better. Because there's no point in striving to improve facilities and playing surfaces while persisting with refereeing which consistently falls short of what should be expected.

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