Squeaky bum time for those governing sports

Was it Albert Reynolds who said it’s never the big things that catch you? If he did, he was correct. The notion that the small, unexpected obstacles end up being fatal impediments isn’t confined to politics, either.
Squeaky bum time for those governing sports

In sport, there always seems to be something simmering offstage that has the potential to ruin everything. A couple of weeks ago, a reader asked me about item one below, and in doing so he piqued my interest about a couple of similar matters I’ve referred to here over the years. I was surprised to find that they all rumble on with no apparent sign of concluding.

Item one: the Rangers tax cases. Last year I referred to these in this section of the paper, and the ‘big’ case in particular.

This investigation by British revenue officials into Rangers’ complex method of playing players has the potential to cause havoc in major clubs across Britain if it ever comes to a head, or a conclusion, and establishes a workable precedent. The labyrinthine financial operations of organisations based nominally in England, with owners resident outside that jurisdiction, and players who are citizens of countries beyond Europe, never mind Britain, take some unravelling, but Revenue officials have plenty of time.

A question nobody seems to have raised is the possible impact of Brexit on such investigations, particularly when this is taken from the UEFA website as an explanation of its own financial fair play rules: “UEFA has been in permanent dialogue with the European Commission about financial fair play and has received continued support for this initiative. There is also a joint statement from the UEFA President and the EU commissioner for competition, emphasising the consistency between the rules and objectives of financial fair play and the policy aims of the EU commission in the field of state aid.”

Item two: the concussion problem in rugby is a regular bus stop for all sports columnists, myself included, but the topic appeared ready to take a more definite route last week. This was down to the piece by journalist Johnny Watterson in which he quoted a rugby player agent who suggested it appears to be a matter of time before a professional rugby player takes a case against the IRFU for failing in its duty of care to players. This is another possible bombshell which could cause untold problems for the IRFU and professional rugby in general. There’s an overtone of ‘duty of care’ to this matter which could also bleed into other sports, where the governing body is seen as the body where ultimate responsibility lies.

Item three: another conflict that has popped up in this corner of the paper over the years, the case being taken by former college athletes in the US against the governing body responsible for those sports, the National College Athletics Association or NCAA.

This case focuses, among other things, on those athletes’ entitlement to reimbursement for image rights and merchandising which uses their likenesses. They don’t receive any revenue from that commercial activity and are seeking compensation for same. A couple of weeks ago the US Supreme Court refused to hear appeals in this case, a decision which initially seemed to benefit the NCAA, though the athletes’ lawyers pointed out that lower courts had found the NCAA had violated antitrust laws. If this seems a case of distant thunder, consider the potential for problems in any sport where the athletes are unpaid but are generating the revenue. Now you see the issues, I’m sure.

Why were we surprised by Lance’s latest dodge?

Lance Armstrong, eh?

The Texan didn’t turn up for a sports conference last week in Dublin, and his no-show was a major theme across all media for a day or two.

It seems a little strange to be surprised in any way that he changed his mind about presenting himself for interview last week, given that Armstrong’s successes as a pro cyclist were built on deception, but there it is.

Full credit to Jaimie Fuller of SKINS, who presented an alternative view (“You and I have got the luxury of not being faced with a $120 million lawsuit that’s going to wipe us out completely,” said Fuller at the conference last week. “It’s easy for us to sit here and judge him for not coming,”), though no doubt many observers would link that lawsuit to Armstrong’s behaviour and that therefore it was all brought on himself.

Anyway. This Armstrong thing could keep getting more and more circular.

I’m firmly on the side of the person looking to have the Texan excised in some way from the movie Dodgeball. That’s real punishment.

Chernow raises the biography bar

Hardly a surprise to any of you erudite readers to learn that Ron Chernow can write, and how. Only this week I picked up a copy of Chernow’s biography of 18th century American politician Alexander Hamilton, the one that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway hit, and all I can say is that if the musical is half as good as the book, then I understand why people are paying thousands for tickets.

It’s jostling for space with Crazy ‘O8 by Cait Murphy about the Chicago Cubs’ baseball exploits in 1908 — only Murphy expands the focus of her book into Chicago politics and baseball mythology also. Thanks to the man who dropped it over, even if productivity has dipped here as a consequence.

In dark times, Foley’s character still shines

There’s little left to say in the immediate aftermath of the passing of Anthony Foley.

By that I mean the initial responses arising from the sheer shock of the news, such as Ronan O’Gara’s strong piece in these pages last week, have now begun to recede. Over the coming weeks and months, other reflections will emerge to take their place.

Your columnist makes no claim to have known Anthony Foley well — there was one lengthy conversation in the old Thomond Park which drifted a long way from the upcoming European Cup game — but like many observers was stunned by the eulogy his widow, Olive, delivered last Friday, and the way she was able to deliver it.

“The end of life has its own nature, also worth our attention,” the American writer Mary Oliver once said. “I don’t say this without reckoning in the sorrow, the worry, the many diminishments. But surely it is then that a person’s character shines or glooms.”

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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

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