The joke for years in our house was that upon his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela’s first words to his long suffering wife, Winnie, were: “Is Martin Carney still playing for Mayo?”.
I heard that joke so often as a kid I likely believed to be true. On Monday last, Abdul Latif Nasser was freed from Guantanamo Bay after serving 20 years (without charge). Hardly a laughing matter, but, like Madiba, Nasser may have been surprised to pick up his sports supplement this weekend and see three sacred cows still very much being worshipped; Yes Nasser, we still have the provincial football championships. The Lions tour is still a thing, and the Olympics...yes the Olympics is still bankrupting cities and making a mockery of the notion of clean sport.
Ah, I say these things, but this weekend especially, I don’t believe them myself. It’s like a royal wedding. You know the cost. You know the ridiculousness. You know the pointlessness of it all, but the second you turn on the BBC and see royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell your scepticism fades into acceptance before been kidnapped by childish excitement: “I don’t care what the security detail costs the taxpayer, I can’t believe Amal Clooney wore cream!!!!”
It is quite fitting that a heatwave should befall Ireland during peak provincial final season. Nine months, years even, of a long lament as to the futility of persisting with provincial championships only for curtains to be pulled tight and sitting rooms darkened on the hottest Sunday of the year. Any child that enters the killzone between couch and television will themselves be threatened with penal servitude in Robben Island.
Dinners are ate extra early. Doorbells are disconnected and cars parked round the back of the house in an act of neighbourly misdirection George Smiley would appreciate. Yeah, provincial football championships are dead until they are not. Sunday, they were the centrepiece of an epic sporting Sunday. The only thing dead about a Mayo v Galway, Kerry v Cork double header is any virus trying to live through the stifling sitting room heat.
The Olympics, too, have suddenly sprung to life despite rumours of their demise. The comfort that an overly long opening ceremony brings is on a par with watching Casablanca on Christmas Day. With all negative opinion polling put to one side, you can sit back and relax, assured of some quality table tennis with your morning coffee.
A week ago, I had no interest in the greatest show on earth. Now I’m hoping to ghostwrite the biography of Hend Zaza, the 12-year-old Syrian ping pong prodigy.
If the Olympics benefit from ubiquity on our televisions, the Lions face a slightly more onerous quest for relevance due to their pay per view status. After screaming at the clouds some weeks ago that I wouldn’t cross the street to watch the great oval folly, I found myself listening to the first Test on the radio. Imagine? I actually sought out a wireless of my own volition for no other reason but to hear how the damn thing was actually going.
No curtains were pulled, but any child that entered the kitchen was met with a finger raised quicker than a South African defensive line.
Sometimes, if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and dunks like a duck, it’s best to accept it’s a duck.
Last week, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek Freak, the 6ft11in man with the unpronounceable name, followed up consecutive MVP NBA seasons with an MVP performance in the finals.
He did so, scoring 50 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking five shots, leading the Milwaukee Bucks to only their second NBA title. For the last three seasons he has looked like the best basketball player on the planet.
Last week, he proved it. Antetokounmpo, born in Greece to Nigerian immigrants, is a phenomenon. An elite two-way player, his humility has almost been as remarkable as his talent.
When the Bucks came up short in the playoffs last season, all eyes turned to see where Antetokounmpo would take his talents in free agency. He had the pick of any team in a league that, inspired by LeBron James, has become much more player focused.
Teams matter less. Instead, Antetokounmpo committed to Milwaukee, a franchise more Moneyball than Hollywood. Some saw Antetokounmpo’s loyalty as a personality flaw. Instead, the player and the franchise doubled down. Antetokounmpo, picked 15th as a “mysterious” teenager by the Bucks in the 2013 draft, carried his team and its rabid support to a historic title.
Fifteen years ago, he was hawking handbags with his brother on a beach in Greece. Today, he’s the undisputed king of the courts.
You’ve likely never heard of Rosalie Fish. She is an athlete, but you won’t be seeing her at this Olympics, or maybe any future Olympics.
If you did see her run, however, it is likely you wouldn’t forget her in a hurry.
Fish is a student who runs track at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa. She’s plenty good, too, leading her school to the National Junior College Athletic Association cross country title in 2019.
Good enough to be recruited and commit her academic and athletic future to the University of Washington in Seattle, where she will compete at NCAA level next year.
She will stand out, however well she runs.
Before Fish runs any race, she goes through a process of contemplation and dedication which culminates in her painting a red handprint across her mouth, thumb and fingers stretched across both cheeks. A member of the Cowlitz Tribe, Fish wears the paint to honour the thousands of indigenous women who continue to suffer violence — sexual violence, physical violence, psychological violence — a scourge that receives little media attention in the US, which is depressing given that murder is the third-leading cause of death among Native American women.
Recent studies have shown more than four out of five indigenous women have experienced violence of some kind.
Standing in front of her mirror pre-race, Fish thinks of all of those she knows who have suffered.
The striking image of her in her spikes, face painted, is one that once again mocks the notion that sport is not a canvas for protest and awareness of societal issues.
The Olympics will dominate the news, but role models like Rosalie Fish are heroes worthy of any podium.
Lost in all the noise of the current outbreak of international sport, the madness of summer transfer season continues on, seemingly unbothered by the lack of attention.
Paul Pogba the good footballer, one half of Paul Pogba the actual footballer, has been linked with a return to Paris, a potential blow to all those fans who need him to be occasionally bad to justify their existence.
It’s a tough call for Pogba; The Old Nags Head or Les Deux Magots, which would you pick?