How much longer will sledging be tolerated in sport?

It is not true that your correspondent organises his entire life around the assembly of material for his column.
How much longer will sledging be tolerated in sport?

I reject utterly the cruel suggestion that had I been standing on the deck of an ocean liner in 1912 in the North Atlantic, as an iceberg loomed out of the darkness, I would have said: “There’s definitely 600 words in this, you know.”

Similarly, there is nothing to prove the allegation that if I had overheard P. H. Pearse giving his spiff, as they say in Blackpool, a hundred years ago my response would have been: “If I write about this will it stay fresh ‘til Monday?”

Mind you, there are certainly times when I welcome an outside intrusion which facilitates me. Bravo, Eddie Jones, mirthful multi-opportunity insulter!

Jones, now England rugby coach, pushed us further along the path of self-examination with his dismissal of the Welsh Rugby Union’s unhappiness with a lack of disciplinary action against England’s Joe Marler.

If you are not familiar with Marler’s felony, he called Welsh player Samson Lee ‘gypsy boy’ in their recent Six Nations clash, a putdown which in no way whatsoever underlined any lingering middle-class associations still clinging to the oval ball.

In the interests of balance it should be pointed out that Marler apologised to Jones at half-time in the same game; in the interests of (further) balance it should also be pointed out that Wales coach Warren Gatland referred to the incident as banter, then apologise for calling it banter, only for Lee to confirm that it was banter ...

PR bungling led Jones to chip in about the contradictions by remarking: “Maybe they don’t know whether they are Arthur or Martha.”

What’s interesting here is the policing of the sledge, if you will. In previous columns we’ve touched on what’s appropriate and inappropriate in on-field sporting discourse, and nobody could be anything but thankful that racism and homophobia are now seen as unacceptable in team sports.

That’s not to say they’re non-existent, nor is it to suggest that players who are not operating under the perusal of cameras with super-slow-motion capability, as well as an army of producers lip-reading errant loudmouths, are spared disgusting tirades. But at least most people accept that that is wrong.

Where this becomes interesting to me is the grey area of gaining an edge over an opponent. Every now and again a top ten of sledging pops up online or in print and some of the bons mots which feature regularly always seem suspiciously polished for delivery in an elite sporting context (there’s an Australian cricketing exchange about biscuits and somebody’s wife that a professional actor would struggle to get out even with heavy rehearsal and prompting, frankly.)

The removal of verbal terrorism from the sportsman’s armoury might spare us these ‘legendary’ witticisms, but are all the variants of trash-talking, sledging and ‘getting inside his head’ about to go the way of the dodo? If they’re eradicated on the basis that these are stratagems which go too far or or wound too deeply, then there’s an interesting vista approaching.

If you had the patience to sift through Maria Sharapova’s PR master class, that medications can be legal one day and illegal the next.

Verbal intimidation may now be going the same way: enjoyable slagging today, unfair and unlawful advantage tomorrow.

The only question is which activity, slightly peripheral to the sport itself, will go on the banned list after that: an angry game face?

Flights of fancy for the intelligentsia

Stumbled across a darts documentary the other evening on TV. Eric Bristow, John Lowe, Keith Deller: all the greats. Given the way darts seems to have undergone a renaissance this looked timely, though fans in in onesies were missing from the archive footage.

What wasn’t missing from the present-day footage was, inevitably, Martin Amis talking about his darts novel, London Fields. I’ve seen the book referred to as a meditation on unreliable narration and the death urge, but it’s really a darts novel (“Darts, Keith!”), as well as containing the single greatest description of what it feels like to snag a toenail on a bedsheet when getting up in the morning.

Did darts needed the blessing of the intelligentsia. Does any sport? It’s not as if the flash of instinctive movement needs greater explication than its own execution, really.

The political contexts and metaphysical angst involved in sport are always worth exploring — Dave Zirin and Ken Dryden do a good job of those — but literary type runs the risk of appearing to slum it.

Nobody turns a phrase like M. A. (from Success: “The only way to get across the road is to be born there.”) but darts? No.

Na Piarsaigh are champions in every sense

Na Piarsaigh collected their first All-Ireland club title last Thursday and in the following day’s paper Anthony Daly outlined the warm glow that kind of victory brings (as well as the chill of never knowing it).

In the last few years Na Piarsaigh’s success has brought me into their orbit a few times, and on every occasion they were impressive. Winning counties and Munster titles, organising events, being helpful when they could: they’ve always struck the right note.

That’s no indictment of Cushendall, a club which showed class with its congratulations to Na Piarsaigh after their own disappointment on St. Patrick’s Day.

But for the generosity of manager Shane O’Neill, Shane Dowling remembering Ger Hoey, the help from Derek Giltinan, Bill Kiely and Timmy O’Connor - it was good to see the men in sky blue collect the cup last week.

It only remains for the club official who promised to clean my car if they won the All-Ireland to follow through on his promise . . .

A guide to impressing your gym buddies

Kudos, Men’s Health. I picked up the most recent edition of the magazine and was delighted it included a glossary for the gym.

I have enjoyed working many of these terms into my everyday life since then, telling people I’m on the swole train (destination: gainsville) and muttering about muscle confusion.

The only downside has been learning that “Bro, DYEL?” Is not appropriate language to use with a four-year-old. Fair enough. Another gain (of sorts).

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