It was and will be the least surprising headline ‘scoop’ of the year, Qatar bribed officials to win their bid for the 2022 World Cup. The only surprising part of the tale being that such a vast paper trail exists of the money. I always thought bribes are supposed to be discreet. Isn’t this how the right to host sports events are won? When an undemocratic country are bidding, the potential for interference in the process is both too tempting and too easy for it not to degenerate into grubby handshakes and proverbial brown paper envelopes.
On April 21st, a day after Manchester United went down 2-0 to David Moyes’ former employers Everton on what must have been one of the Scotsman’s darkest days of a torrid 10 months in charge, strong rumours began circulating that Moyes was on the verge of losing his job after officially failing to achieve Champions league qualification.
“The GAA hierarchy are like the pigs in Animal Farm. Repeating the mantras of volunteerism & community while doing the opposite.” Joe Brolly in the aftermath of the GAA’s deal with Sky Sports.
It was a measure of the changing nature of Gaelic Games that if a story of the GAA selling television rights to Sky appeared in the news ten years ago on April Fools’ Day it would have been instantly recognised as a trick for the day that’s in it. But not anymore, the fact the GAA had already made a deal with Setanta in previous years, the fact that Sky have become incredibly aggressive in the Irish market in recent times and of course the fact that the deal was cynically flighted to the press a week ago to try and restrict the fallout, all meant that once the official announcement came, we all knew that this was no prank. Sky are here and as is their wont they are here to stay.
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus, being punished for his deceitfulness, was compelled to roll a boulder uphill for eternity only to watch the rock slide down the slope every time he reached the summit. If you want to similarly creatively chasten an Irish person, you could arrange that they must watch the frantic denouement to Ireland’s 2014 Six Nation’s campaign over and over without ever getting the relief of Steve Walsh’s final whistle.
It’s one of the oddities of sport that high stakes occasions like the one we saw on Saturday in Paris (for the invested viewer anyway) is probably one of the least enjoyable experiences there is. The wait while Walsh tried to find any reason to allow France’s late score in the corner was particularly tortuous. Nerves ruin the experience of actually watching the contest. With that much on the line, it’s all about the pay-off once the right result is secured.
On Sunday, the American footballer Michael Sam in a carefully choreographed announcement, revealed he was gay. Sportsmen being upfront about their homosexuality is becoming a much more common occurrence with Donal Óg Cusack, Gareth Thomas and Thomas Hitzlsperger being some of the more high profile examples.
As many have pointed out, the major difference with Sam is he has chosen to come out before his professional career has even begun. It is disappointing that many within the sport have stated that his announcement will see his draft stock fall, but the reaction publicly from the vast majority of players has been hugely positive and it appears in a few months that the NFL will have on its books, an openly gay athlete.
Growing up watching sport at the beginning of this century the green and gold of Australia was almost synonymous with winning. They captured the Rugby World Cup in 1999 and were a whisker away from retaining it in 2003. Their cricket team were simply the greatest side ever assembled and won three World Cups from 1999-2007 and – 2005 aside – continually hammered England in the Ashes. They hosted a wonderful Olympics in 2000 and finished a staggering (given their population) fourth in the medals table. Also around the turn of the millennium they had the world’s best tennis player in Lleyton Hewitt who in these pre-Federer days looked set to dominate his sport. Ian Thorpe too, long before being eclipsed by Micheal Phelps was all set to be remembered as the Spitzian swimmer of our time.
There haven’t been many nights quite like it and Borussia Dortmund were savouring it. They might still fail in their quest for a second European Cup but Dortmund’s players, fans and their extraordinary manager will always have this game, a testament to the metamorphosis of a club in financial ruin only eight years ago. Remaining on the field with his players, Jürgen Klopp was jumping around in delight, a happiness which for so long looked as if it was going to elude him. The post match media commitments would have to wait, as his players climbed the barricades of the stands, he looked around in surprise and relief, marveling at what he had helped build.
As it comes to the end of one of its most difficult years in memory there was some good news at last for the FAI last week. A survey of Irish adults has shown that football was the most popular team sport in terms of participation in the country last year. 12% of people surveyed took part in the game over the past twelve months. Replicating recent trends, Football was played by more people than both Gaelic football and hurling put together who polled 6% and 3% respectively. Perhaps most surprisingly only 1 in 50 people had tried their hand at rugby during 2011. Swimming at (36%) and jogging (24%) remain the most popular forms of exercise for Irish people.
“I throw the ball as hard as ever, but it just takes longer to get to the plate.” – Don Newcombe, Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, in the twilight of his career.
Ryan Giggs turned 39 yesterday. Time catches up with everyone, it has though been very slow to grab hold of Giggs and his teammate Paul Scholes. Only in January of this year Scholes at age 37 returned to United after a brief flirtation with retirement and led them to a ten match unbeaten run including initiating a three goal comeback at Stamford Bridge. Around the same time, Giggs scored a crucial winner at Carrow Road to give United a priceless victory. The season before, the Welshman was man of the match in both legs of the Champions League Quarter Final against Chelsea.
This week the League of Ireland will come to a close with off the pitch events meaning the competition experienced one of its most turbulent editions to date. Given the general financial malaise that usually settles around clubs during the off-season we’ve probably seen nothing yet. Also this week a British tourism agency released a report which states that despite this country’s grievous financial situation 174,000 Irish football supporters went to see their favourite teams play across the water in 2011, spending €100 million in the process. One week earlier our national side suffered it’s most humiliating reversal in a year full of humiliating reversals. The FAI, after trying to embarrass their manager into resigning came to a conclusion in an emergency meeting that they couldn’t afford to sack him despite Ireland suffering its worst home defeat in their history. So sums up the state of football in Ireland. The 2012 Airtricity League, VisitBritain’s report and the travails of the national side were all reported differently with massively different emphasis yet they are three sides of the same problem, all explain why despite ever rising participation numbers the infrastructure of the game here and its most important ambassador in this country are in such a sorry state of affairs.