Michael Moynihan: Close the beaches, or why the right decision has now been made

Michael Moynihan: Close the beaches, or why the right decision has now been made
Despite the coranvirus fears, it was full steam ahead at the Cheltenham Festival. That decision will not age well and will reflect poorly on many people, believes Michael Moynihan. The action yesterday shows Lizzie Kelly, riding Siruh Du Lac, and James Best, riding Imperial Presence, falling at the penultimate fence in the fifth race. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images

LARRY VAUGHAN, you should be living at this hour.

Jaws fans will remember the name of the mayor of Amity, the man who wouldn’t close the beaches because the town depended on summer dollars, and who duly saw the Kintner boy eaten in front of the whole town.

It was on the tip of my tongue, or pen, to point out that we seemed to have a fair few Larry Vaughns around at the moment in the sports world, but is that unfair? Timing rather than thickheadedness?

From early on yesterday it was obvious the Taoiseach wasn’t going to be making an announcement in Washington DC about half-measures. 

The ban he outlined, on indoor meetings of 100 people and outdoor gatherings of 500, put a swift end to the speculation about how sports events would continue.

And a swift end to sports events themselves for the next few weeks.

By that stage Basketball Ireland had already suspended all competitions with immediate effect — the men’s Super League title was due to be decided this weekend but that and all scheduled post-season competitions along with local leagues are now postponed — and by yesterday afternoon some of the big guns had followed suit.

The word came out from the likes of the GAA and the IRFU that a shutdown of all activity was in force until the end of the month following meetings with government.

Up to that point the question was why organisations large and small hadn’t acted like Basketball Ireland sooner, but that was soon overtaken by more pressing matters about the coming weeks.

About childcare and work practices, about homework and upcoming social functions, about food shopping (but not, hopefully, panic shopping.)

That sense of a wider context seems to have submerged finger-pointing and blaming, at least for now.

By definition, any problem which leads to the shutting down of practically every sports event on the island seems too big a problem to accommodate the automatically-generated criticism of organisations and officials.

Almost every organisation and official, that is, because thankfully we have an entrant in the general conversation from the very special realm of sports logic.

In sports logic there isn’t a wider context. There isn’t even a narrow context, because sports logic is self- reflexive, a world unto itself. 

The disconnect between sports logic and the real world is not just a matter of clear separation, but a yawning gulf, a vast chasm.

THE entrant to which I refer here is Cheltenham, where thousands of people are practising the particular brand of social distancing known as standing right next to each other/sweating down each others’ backs when possible/drinking/handling dirty cash in a heaving mass squashed together for days on end.

Michael Moynihan: Close the beaches, or why the right decision has now been made

The kindest thing you could say about this year’s Cheltenham is that proceeding with it is a decision that will not age well and will reflect poorly on many people.

It seems difficult to believe that Irish people in attendance at the festival are clinging to the fig leaf that the British Government sees nothing wrong with Cheltenham proceeding. 

Yes, that is the same British Government charged with enacting Brexit; it is as if Boris Johnson came to their houses all over Ireland and used all his straw headed Children of the Corn charm to coax them across the Irish Sea despite their efforts to resist.

This is where the chasm between sports logic and real logic really comes into its own because you know well many of the Irish people in Cheltenham are perfectly capable of nodding along when experts suggest that drastic action is needed to curtail the spread of coronavirus - while simultaneously attending an event which will also be attended by thousands of other people, all no doubt agreeing with each other that drastic action is needed, setting the circle going again and again.

Silver lining: up to yesterday you could genuinely fear the event in Cheltenham would be cited as a reason for allowing other events to go ahead. 

Indeed, there was plenty of first-class whataboutery to be heard about events such as Champions League games going ahead earlier in the week.

Yet that seems to have died away also.

Punters at Cheltenham
Punters at Cheltenham

This is the curious phenomenon alluded to above, where the seriousness of the measures taken proves the seriousness of the problem faced.

The last few days, for instance, have seen the perception of Cheltenham move in from a bluff show of defiance among diehard fans to a colossal mistake on the part of the deeply selfish. 

Mentioning the race meeting in conversation now has less to do wit h creating a precedent for your sport of choice continuing, and more to with virtue-signalling the selfless steps taken by your sport of choice code compared to those in Cheltenham.

The obvious retort — that racing is an industry — was answered earlier this week in a similar context, when the Australian Grand Prix was due to take place even as eight team members were in self-isolation already for the virus.

World champion Lewis Hamilton was blunt in his view on that race: “I am really very, very surprised that we are here. I think it’s really shocking that we are all sitting in this room . . . Cash is king.”

Perhaps Lewis could have persuaded Larry Vaughn to act in Amity, all those years ago, and close the beaches. As it was common sense prevailed, and the Australian Grand Prix was postponed even as this was being written, despite the Grand Prix being an . . . industry, like horseracing.

(By the way, is there some connection between Lewis Hamilton and the actor who played Larry Vaughn, Murray Hamilton?)

There are plenty of late nights ahead for sports administrators as they work out the implications of the coming shutdown: financial challenges, insurance claims, staff payments, sponsorship agreements, rearranged fixtures, competition integrity.

But at least the right decision has been made.The kind of decision Larry Vaughn should have made all those years ago.

When the inevitable complaining starts in a few days, or even hours, it would do everyone good to remember that, even if that proves a bridge too far.

Never forget, for instance, that when Jaws 2 came out Larry Vaughn was still mayor, so he’d been re-elected.

Real world or sports world, people have short memories.

This story was updated at 10.10pm

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