Not by a long chalk.
That’s why it is was pretty uplifting to hear a voice from the recent past on radio last week, someone who actually achieved fame for a constructive accomplishment, not to mention enjoying the freedom to revisit that period in his life some years later with no accompanying embarrassment.
I refer to former US Senator George Mitchell, whose sterling work in driving the peace process in the late 90s was rightly saluted here and abroad, and who was on air discussing his new biography, ‘The Negotiator’, which is out now.
Mitchell’s interest in sport is deep and genuine — a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan who grew up in New England, he overcame early poverty to become Senate majority leader, a position which requires consummate negotiating skills to deal with the byzantine machinations of US politics.
While he held that post, the owner of a Major League baseball team approached Mitchell about becoming Baseball Commissioner, a combination of Paraic Duffy and Aogan Ó Fearghail’s roles, but the owner warned the politician that he’d have to deal with the team owners, “28 big egos”.
“For me, that’s a 78% reduction,” said Mitchell, who declined the offer.
After he helped to broker a deal in Northern Ireland, Mitchell went back to help baseball, heading up an investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport. He didn’t hold back, producing a report which claimed that evidence existed linking more than 80 players, including huge stars such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, to steroids and other prohibited substances. There were suggestions of a possible conflict of interest — Mitchell was a Red Sox director at the time, and Boston got off lightly in his report — but one of his critics, former US Prosecutor John Dowd, later said Mitchell had done a good job with the report.
In one of his (Irish) radio appearances last week, he mentioned his older brother John, a high school basketball star often compared to the Boston Celtics legend John Cousy. As a kid George Mitchell was habitually known as John’s brother, though his political achievements were eventually recognised in the small town where he grew up. On a trip back back home to Waterville, Maine, recently he was invited to the opening of a new high school gym, named in his honour. One of the prominent posters on the wall, though, was a huge photograph of his older brother John. “Hey,” said George Mitchell. “What’s he doing in my gym?”
Only last week, I wrote here about the downside of the super-event, the mega-tournament which dominates a city or country and which is of doubtful benefit to its host area for reasons of greed, poor planning, overconfidence, and so forth.
Days later, something happened in Fifa which casts quite the shadow over forthcoming World Cups. Don’t worry, I am not claiming a causal link between my observations and the US Department of Justice’s rush to make arrests. You don’t need to be Nostradamus to mention the governing body of the “beautiful game” and expect some suggestion of malfeasance, anyway.
The last week’s events offer any number of hilarious sideshows. From the faint sound of gritting teeth as people hear the US lawyers mention soccer (a good English term, lest we forget) to the (apparent) departure of that much-loved figure, Jack Warner, from the international sports-administrator stage, there’s something in this for everyone. According to the US investigators, for instance, Warner, a former Fifa vice-president, had this response to make to suggestions that soccer officials were inquiring about payments being made in envelopes: “If you’re pious, open a church. Our business is our business.”
There’s the use of a “Soccer Uniform Company A”, an organisation in Panama, for false invoices. Then there’s my particular favourite, the conspirator directed by Jack Warner to go to Paris to collect a suitcase packed with “US currency in $10,000 stacks” in the run-up to voting on the 2010 World Cup.
A multi-national sportswear company is implicated in a nasty pay-off scandal, for instance, while Bill Clinton’s foundation also has been identified as receiving money from Fifa. The rumbling from Warner that only “third world” officials are being arrested makes one wonder if those officials might be tempted into plea bargains which would make first-world officials very nervous. Ah yes, how sweet the sound of indictments tumbling through the letterbox. They run to a whopping 161 pages, by the way, in total. The beautiful game, indeed.
I’ll I tip my hat, as the young folks say, to the efforts of one Sam Cohen in the New Yorker magazine, for he has done something that we should all have done many, many years ago.
Cohen has taken the fragmented shouts and murmurs one hears along the sidelines at various games and converted them into poetry.
The result often aren’t very long. One, in its entirety, reads:
However, it’s no less affecting by virtue of its brevity. Why this didn’t occur to us all decades ago, I don’t know, but I offer the following:
Coincidentally, the Oxford Professor of Poetry is to be appointed soon. I’m here all week.
While I mention referees, sympathies to the Horgan family of Cork on their recent loss. Willie Horgan was a fine referee within the county and outside, handling All-Ireland finals with calm assurance.
He brought honour to his own club, Brian Dillons, and to his family in the course of a long career. The games were a good deal more robust back then and it took a rare skill to handle ferocious, knockout championship encounters. Willie Horgan always had that skill.