Every four years, our excuses for walking past the Olympic chuggers are more elaborate.
We become desperately agitated over the drugs. We grow curiously squeamish about excessive corporate branding. Worry about plumbing in athletes’ accommodation triggers dormant health and safety instincts. We are never more concerned with the dubious administrative decisions of a far-off state and fret about their potential budget deficit. And it suddenly occurs to us that poverty and misery is carrying on as normal while some people sport and play.
In the end, we conclude that all this controvassy has put us right off — we might give it a miss altogether this time round. We just can’t admit it’s because there is a match on.
They try hard, the head honchos. Their diary work is relatively sound. They slot the Games in before the gridiron starts and after the NBA wraps up. They take their chances with the GAA but they get things started before most of the football kicks off and after the other football finishes. By sheer chance, because it’s unlikely they’ve heard of it, they even avoid the pockets of rugby that will soon break out.
Problem is, there is still always a match on. There is always football. Some of it vital and lucrative, as we saw this week. Even if Wayne Rooney’s testimonial had a “testimonial feel”, as Owen Hargreaves told us.
We will always watch another match.
Whereas, if the best in the world at the Laser Radial, for instance, went at it near a beach we were lying on, we’d only turn over off our bellies for more suncream.
If we chanced into a hall with badminton on, it would be for the club committee meeting afterwards.
There’s enough shooting on the news. And there are many nowadays who even fast-forward through the fencing in Star Wars.
And yet, the Olympics has somehow hung in there, despite our obvious disinterest in most of its contents.
In spite of itself really. Because while the organisers do their level best with the scheduling, they seem at a loss as to how they should protect the essence of what they have.
One of the crutches they lean on is patriotism, something that could be on the rise again, which might dig them out of a hole.
But they still feel the need to chase a ready-made audience, to bolt on the golf, and before that the tennis. They parachuted in the pro footballers and basketball players and dispatched an invite to the pro boxers. Next time round, they will go after the Snapchat crowd, by beckoning in the skaters and surfers.
But if patriotism is the virtue of the vicious, to Wilde’s mind, the courting of athletes whose dreams have already been fulfilled sets the Games spinning on a vicious circle.
The one selling point it had was that everyone cared deeply. When we hear of secret tunnels being carved out of doping labs, on one hand we are repulsed, but we also have to admire the lengths people are still willing to go to. That’s always been the Games’ main attraction. That it means everything, that it is worth putting a life on hold for.
In the television age, it has become a kind of sporting X-Factor, which people tune into, despite the din, for the sheer desperation. And the back-stories.
Ultimately, we can overlook a lot for one or two payoffs. A Kerri Strug, strapping up her ankle to land a vault, then being carried to the podium.
So, in a sense, these Games are indebted to those golfers who refused to show. Who would only have been here for the selfies in front of the Olympic rings, as long as it suited their sponsors.
It clears the stage for the truly desperate.
But still there are scheduling problems. It is a big ask, putting a struggling event that trades on hopes and dreams and the quest for gold up against a thriving biannual festival that trades on hopes and dreams and the quest for gold or whatever currency is going.
And realistically, it’s hard to see much future in it, staging an Olympics just when the transfer window is hotting up.
Is there any need to stay up late and invest ourselves in Ciara Mageean’s dreams or Annalise Murphy’s dreams or Paddy Barnes’ dreams when we can monitor 24/7 the progress of Jeff Hendrick’s dream move? And Paul Pogba’s whereabouts?
Crucially, when Jeff and Paul — and many like them — are working towards their own life-changing moment in the glare of the cameras, holding a pen in their hand and a scarf above their head, they are doing their bit for all our hopes and dreams too.
We can persuade ourselves that Paul might just be the last piece of a jigsaw. Maybe even Jeff, depending on the scale of your dreams.
We are already invested heavily. The Olympics, on the other hand, must survive on one-off charity donations of our emotion.
And increasingly we put our head down and walk by.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved