LARRY RYAN: A week to remember for wrong reasons

Like big John Daly, there is no dressing it up — we endured a grim sporting week.

Putting the good side out first; at least there was Crokes. Prevailing via some quaint, mutant derivation of Gaelic football and confounding the risk assessors by transferring the ball to one another by means of an unusual technique historians refer to as kicking.

Crossmaglen too, played ball. But soon allegations surfaced, soured and saddened. We can only hope, whatever happened, that nobody commissions a set of t-shirts over it.

Downhill from there. By Monday, Ricky Ponting was gone. A last relic of unreconstructed masculinity. A man who, in his day, knew only winning and letting his opponent know he was winning, making his exit in the way that would have vexed him most; losing heavily and warmly applauded off the field by friend and foe.

Of course, Freddie’s Friday Fright Night still haunted us. The once-proud game of heavyweight boxing now indistinguishable from the shameless racket of reality TV. As if that hadn’t been the case for years, says you.

But even Flintoff’s latest breach of a boundary was the apotheosis of sporting integrity compared to the farce in store at the Tate Modern last Monday. A spectacle so absurd, Damien Hirst might preserve it as an installation.

On the day that TV3 would screen Psychics Readings Live for the very last time, rugby also peered vaguely into the future for the sake of a buck. In confirming seedings and making a draw for an event that will take place in three years’ time, with almost half the participants yet to be decided, it prioritised hotel reservations over fairness and respect for the minnows who will eventually make up the numbers.

The sanctity of commerce over fair play was also celebrated in Milton Keynes, where cuckolded visitors Wimbledon — once the killing fields of Wise, Jones and Fashanu — completed their Nevillean reinvention as the good guys. Appropriately, MK Dons won it.

What else went wrong? Shefflin went down and again we had to consider the cold, hopefully distant, day when he won’t get up. Messi fell too, applying a tin hat to budget day. A demoralising reminder of the fragility of even the superhuman.

India was kicked out of the Olympics, for now at least. Further indication that for all the challenges athletes overcome, some of the biggest obstacles are erected by the administrators leading them.

At the Barbican in York, the shadow of an absent champion with more retirements than The Who hung over the snooker. Back home, the great Zorro from Loughrea was foiled, although we don’t yet know if his ban extends to the Irish Fencing Open, which begins today in UCD. It certainly won’t cover much GAA.

Stuart Hall, meanwhile, prince of the loquacious match report, will now have to rely on the presumption of innocence as much as his silver tongue.

In the Champions League, where the only sign of life in a dead rubber plantation was at Parkhead, where matters were settled by a dive.

And before the week was out, our horizons had been blotted too, with the prospect of a ruined European Championships, set to be scattered around the continent like a gap-year holiday, rather than concentrated in a festival. Yet all these gripes proved minor when set alongside the week’s gruesome sporting tragedies.

We can’t say what portion of society’s blame sport must take for the horror in Kansas. Speculation about the debilitating effect of concussions will persist, but we might never know what triggered the madness in Jovan Belcher that drove him to murder and suicide. Football, or soccer, however, must examine its conscience over Dutch Richard Nieuwenhuizen’s awful fate. Let’s leave the details with the authorities, but it’s inescapable fact a linesman was attacked and later died. Officiating at a youth match where his son featured.

The Netherlands is in shock. All amateur football was shelved and Ronald Koeman believes the pro game too should have stopped.

With FIFA employing goalline technology for the first time in Yokohama, it ought to have been a week when assistant refs could look to a day when they might no longer crane their necks and hope for the best. Instead, officials at all levels had to confront their worst fears.

What part did the game’s culture of dissent play? It’s something football can’t easily wash its hands of.


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