MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: A reminder of the true values of the Olympics

At times you’d wonder how much more this Olympic ideal can actually take.

Never mind the Zika virus, with its golf-obsessed insects targeting putter-wielding targets to the apparent exclusion of everybody else; never mind the fact the laboratory supposed to target drug cheats in Rio is not fit for purpose, and will do no targeting at all; never mind, indeed, the fact that body parts are washing up on the beaches in the area. Specifically the stretch of sand to be used for beach volleyball.

Never mind the fact that the London games of a few years provided a wonderful springboard for the blond bloviator himself, Boris Johnson, to promote his image, one in a long line of dubious politicians attaching themselves to the Games and their dubious glamour. Never mind the decision to cut wrestling — wrestling, one of the original Olympic sports — from the Games, correctly identified by Katie Taylor as a blatant instance of the IOC selling its soul.

Yet there was a curious instance during the week of how the Olympics can sound a progressive note rather than regurgitating the usual tone-deaf solipsism we associate with the decision to continue with the games of 1972, despite the massacre of Israeli athletes that year in Munich.

The instance I refer to was the Sports Illustrated cover which gave a neat twist on the ‘where are they now’ question by putting Caitlyn Jenner on the cover, with a cover of the magazine from 40 years ago alongside. That showed Caitlyn Jenner as she was then: Bruce Jenner, Olympic gold-winning decathlete.

The notion of transitioning from one gender to another makes many people uncomfortable; hence the repeated pleas for tolerance and understanding of the LGBTQ community. Caitlyn Jenner’s highly visible journey is an asset rather than a liability in this regard, showing people the reality rather than the reaction. This will be seen as normal in a few years; we’ll look back and wonder what the fuss was about.

Until we reach that point, though, the Jenner story helps. The fact that it’s happening at an angle to the sports world helps, given — how to put this delicately — the demographic following the back pages are widely perceived not to be simultaneously absorbing worthy opinion pieces on social evolution.

That said, in writing up an interview with former The New York Times sports editor Joe Sexton a few days ago, I found a general point of his about sport resonant this week: “It’s an enormous societal force with all sorts of questions to be asked of it, from whether you should allow kids to play football with the prospect of brain damage, or girls entitled to equal opportunities in collegiate sport... it’s no less an element of American society deserving of attention than business or education, or healthcare, and should be seen that way.”

And reported that way, too.

By foregrounding the Caitlyn Jenner story the folks at Sports Illustrated deserve some respect for making people think about matters outside sport while reporting on sport the way outside matters are. The easier option would have been a by-the-numbers evaluation of where the gold medals were likely to go. Or, given this is Rio, who was likely to pull out because of a microscopic chance of an obscure infection.

In fairness, a little love deserves to go to the Olympics, too. This is an occasion when a gold medal makes all the difference.

Summitt of ambition is to serve

The passing of women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt in the US last Tuesday was marked by a (typically) superb piece by Juliet Macur of The New York Times, who pointed out that Summitt, apart from being a supremely successful coach, always had time to help women making their way in sports. Even journalists.

Summitt was struck by early-onset dementia a few years ago, at the age of 59, but she immediately set to raising public consciousness of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as establishing a foundation to raise funds for research into the disease.

Summitt’s last public communication was a tweet posted on June 4 quoting Muhammad Ali: ‘Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.’

Want to add a few cliches to this lot?

Is it time for midsummer cliche bingo yet?

The championship starts here. This team can turn a corner. It only takes one result. They’re a summer team. They showed us nothing in the league to suggest a performance like that. They’ve gone back since last year. They’ve improved since last year. They’ve learned nothing. They’ve learned everything, somebody must have eaten some Salmon of Knowledge (said no pundit ever). They’re a different proposition in the summer. They’re a different proposition in the spring.

He looks up for this one. He looks up for that one. He’s looking to take on that responsibility. He’s looking fitter than he ever has. He doesn’t look interested. He’s a championship player. He’s not that kind of player. He’s a player who relishes the challenge. He’s a player who challenges the relish (which I’d love to hear said of some hefty full-forward, actually). He’s one of the game’s characters. Time is running out for this bunch of players. They’re one forward short. They’ve an embarrassment of riches. They’ve got great depth (but never width, if you notice).

They’ve a great tradition. But is it all behind them?

There’s some credit in Don’s recording diktat

Don Henley’s audience strictures probably came across your horizon last week. The former Eagle stipulated no cameras, phones, or recording devices were to be deployed at his Irish shows, and I noted a general consensus that this was a good thing, not the power-mad rambling of an egomaniac.

I don’t go to as many concerts as I used to but I am aware of the phenomenon of phones used at such events to the detriment of people’s enjoyment. I heard one man on a radio show talk about the lady who complained to him that he was getting in the way at a concert and obscuring the view; not her view, her phone’s. But Don Henley? I struggle to get past The Story Of The Eagles, a lengthy documentary in which Henley’s waspishness is a near-constant (Henley on guitarist Don Felder wanting to sing a song on one album: “We didn’t let Mr Felder sing it... it simply didn’t come up to band standards”).

It’s entertaining so long as you didn’t have to live it, I suppose. Just wondering if Henley’s fatwa against recording worked out, or whether he had a heartache tonight (too obvious?).


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