Bolt the latest to fall foul of manufactured ‘controvassy’

"It’s been years since the Super Bowl felt as significant as the draft."

Bolt the latest to fall foul of manufactured ‘controvassy’

So argued sportswriter Will Leitch in this week’s New York Magazine. Leitch wasn’t just talking gridiron. He noted too that, during June’s NBA Finals, “people seemed to stop paying attention to the games entirely”.

Instead, they only wanted to talk about where LeBron James was going next.

Baseball; much the same, suggests Leitch. “We’re all the Jonah Hill character in Moneyball.” Comparing batting averages to salaries and marvelling at husbandry as much as home runs.

In these parts, the formidable industry around football’s transfer window would appear to underline Leitch’s point, even if there is the excuse that the football it revolves around hasn’t yet resumed.

But there are no countdowns ticking to the start of the various football seasons. Yet you won’t escape notice today that the window shuts in 30 days.

So is Leitch right? Has speculation and rumour grown more compelling than all sport? And if speculation thrives, what of its lucrative sister industry; our old friend ‘controvassy’?

Was it the chosen people of the Commonwealth who demanded, this week, to find out what Usain Bolt makes of Scottish Independence and of Gaza?

Was it deafening public clamour that led Times (London) reporter Katie Gibbons to eventually unlock Bolt in an unguarded moment when he may or may not have described the Commonwealth Games as “a bit shit”?

Was it an inquisitive people who insisted that this possible statement be analysed in great detail before moving on to less pressing matters in the arenas?

Or could it be that this fine business Will Leitch and Katie Gibbons are in has — in the romantic words of the marketing gurus — created a need for these things.

BBC recently ran a series on consumerism called The Men Who Made Us Spend. Might a follow up be due on The Media Men Who Made Us Crave Speculation and Controvassy?

Is this the replacement for the legendary, if obsolete, old sportswriters who brought us hyperbolic accounts of the things we couldn’t see? Hyperbolic gossip about things we don’t know, that mightn’t even have happened.

You would have a certain sympathy for writers on the Usain Bolt beat.

A Sky Sports documentary — screened again this week — quickly brought Usain to the nitty gritty of his trade.

“The only thing going through your mind is run, run, run as fast as you can.”

Ultimately, when it comes to the sprints, maybe there are only so many ways you can dice that policy up. You could argue, too, that if Bolt is prepared to arrive at an athletics meeting on board a rocket, as he did at last year’s Anniversary Games, and make out-of-this-world earnings, he launches himself above the parapet for closer scrutiny.

And we must also be careful not to conclude that there is anything really new going on here.

This week, we saw letters from James Joyce complaining about Fleet Street’s overbearing interest in his 1931 marriage to Nora Barnacle.

The other day, I found a 1958 autobiography by former Arsenal manager Tom Whittaker in which he complains about his remarks being hysterically misreported by the press, about sneaking onto trains on transfer business to dodge reporters who’d been tipped off by station porters. Tom didn’t sound like a car window kinda guy.

There was even a foretaste of the modern social media-driven news agenda as Whittaker recalls receiving sacks of anonymous letters in 1953 telling him his Scottish forward Jimmy Logie was out drinking in the early hours every night. Whittaker didn’t retweet them, but the story still made the papers, despite proving false.

So nothing new, maybe just more of it.

Can we throw stones over our neighbour’s fence? The humble domestic controversy trade grows apace, with any loose remark now snapped up for headlines.

There may be nobody more gripped by events inside the arena than Cyril Farrell, yet even he commanded as much attention as the All-Ireland semi-finalists this week after his description of Dublin as ‘manufactured hurlers’.

Yet this was, at least, a reasoned debate to be had; about nature v nurture; environment v genetics; tradition v planning.

Maybe Usain can put it to bed. Or complicate it, whatever your view. The most graceful, natural racer, from the sprinting hotbed, couldn’t get near his pal Ricardo Geddes in primary school, until a teacher manufactured his start.

It is harder to see what constructive discussion could grow from the reporting of Bolt’s remarks this week, which he denied making.

If the price of constant speculation might be a diminished ability to appreciate thrilling events before our eyes, as Leitch noted in San Antonio and Miami, what is the cost of controvassy?

We like our heroes to stand up and be counted. If Bolt did have something to say on Gaza, if he was moved to deliver a simple humanitarian plea, could he trust his words be taken at face value? Or would they be spun out to trip him up?

Would he be any more trusting after this week?

How to identify the real deal

So how can we spot a manufactured hurler? A tricky one. Easier, maybe, to identify the real deal as soon as the stork plonks him down in the Home of Hurling.

The wrists. He’ll hold the bottle himself at two weeks. Jab-lift a peeled spud at four. Peel it himself at six.

Teething won’t knock a feather out of him because he’ll know well he won’t have them long anyway. He’ll be able to land a dunt before he can crawl.

First words: “Wide ball, wide effing ball.”

First steps: Five maybe six, then a crafty throw ahead.

A good report from his first teacher? “Ah sure, I got the few breaks, thank God.”

Nicknames are vital. Go up around the school and make sure they are calling him something other than his name. Not Tubridy. If you find out he gave himself the nickname, even better.

If he sports tracksuit bottoms, at any stage, forget about it. Next you hear, they’re playing him top of the left in the Cumann na mBunscol. End of the road.

Progress should be swift. Next you hear, he’ll be a county minor or he might be washed up, gone off the rails, a devil for the drink.

Either way, he’ll have a brother at home twice as good.

Heroes & villains


BT Sport: Have gone above and beyond the call of duty rigging up a darkened perspex box for Paul Scholes so he can continue to shun the limelight while punditing.

Damien Richardson: A welcome touchline return. Certain to add definable objectivity to Drogheda’s attack and improve the interdepartmental choreography between defence and midfield.

Richard Dunne: Entitled, at this stage, to retire to a land of milk and honey.

Jimmy Carter: The old Arsenal maestro produced the description of pre-season: “Henry is like an orchestra in there, orchestrating things.”


John Part: Sneaky line after the World Matchplay: “Phil Taylor is a master competitor and tosser.”

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