The terrible death of Joao Carvalho last week after an MMA event in Dublin dominated many sports conversations in recent days.
There was no shortage of opinions available on the sport, for and against, in those conversations, but some of the arguments I heard and read were ludicrous, to be kind about it.
Take the ‘take this sport seriously or it’ll be driven underground’ argument. This thesis holds no water.
Consider the work of Paul Rouse of UCD and this parish, and his seminal Sport and Ireland: A History.
Rouse takes a long view of sport through Ireland’s past, and among the many interesting themes found in the narrative is the rise and fall in popularity of various sports over the centuries — many, like bear-baiting, repulsive to the modern sensibility.
These sports were driven underground and then driven out of existence. The appetite for their survival didn’t last, and neither did they.
Granted, there’s a chicken and egg element here — did those sports go out of existence because they eventually became illegal, or would they have faded in popularity anyway, as people found them increasingly distasteful?
But the substantive point is that the apocalyptic overtone of ‘going underground’ seems overcooked, at least to this observer. There’s a false logic to the notion that if you make MMA illegal, then it’ll turn into an Alan Partridge pitch, fighting in pub car parks: if you make MMA illegal, then it becomes something that cannot be staged because it’s against the law.
Then you have the ‘boxing and horse-racing and rugby have their own safety issues’ argument. By advancing this as a counterpoint to the focus on deaths and serious injuries in MMA, its advocates have already conceded defeat. If your sport needs to point the finger at other pursuits to defend itself, it has given up on providing a defence itself.
This argument doesn’t stand for the simple reason there is always another sport which will be more dangerous, or another pursuit that offers more chance of death. That doesn’t address in any way the inherent dangers in the specific sport under discussion.
In a parallel track, I’ve also seen the ‘why, only just last week the state of New York granted MMA a licence and made it legal’ angle played.
Much like the other-sports-hurt-people-too argument, this is another built on sand: much as I admire the Empire State and all its works and pomps, to cite the sporting authorities of that zone as the example all jurisdictions should follow is what another contact sport would term leading with one’s chin.
If you doubt me then, without wanting to turn this column into a completely free reading list, I refer you to the book Jacobs Beach by Kevin Mitchell, a stunning — and stunningly readable — account of the golden age of boxing in New York. The book’s subtitle is ‘The Mob, The Fights, The Fifties’ and it illustrates the chicanery in what was then a licenced and legal pursuit in that state.
I’ve also noticed a generalised tendency by some commentators to refer to the fact that MMA is now big business, with a lot of money at stake. As a defence, this is the definition of a circular argument: many activities generate vast amounts of revenue, but that revenue can hardly be held up in itself as a reason that those activities should continue. I’m sure the good folks of Mossack Fonseca would agree.
It doesn’t take a close textual analysis to deduce from the above that this writer can’t warm to MMA. Its appeal can’t be denied but it does nothing for this observer. Perhaps I’m not in the target demographic, or educated in the subtleties of the sport, or just irretrievably biased.
I certainly thought in this last week there was a lot of emphasis placed by some on the sport’s future, and not enough emphasis placed on its recent past, and the death of a young man in a strange land a long way from home.
— Ciara McCormack (@ciaramc21) April 16, 2016
Scoreline of the week had to be the filleting dished out in Nowlan Park on Saturday, where Wexford beat Kilkenny by 17-20 to 0-0 in the Leinster Minor Football Championship.
Comedy results like this don’t reflect well on anybody. Not the Kilkenny County Board, which sent out a team capable of leaking this kind of total, and certainly not those within the GAA in favour of the mindset which means counties seek to focus exclusively on one code in the hope of success, rather than providing the full range of Gaelic games to those living in that county.
God knows I’ve mentioned this before, and I don’t take any pleasure in picking out a team of teenagers as illustrating what happens when this attitude is taken to its ultimate conclusion. It shows the need for some reality about the existential crisis which continues to roll merrily on, though.
Elite amateur facilitation or games development organisation? Based on Saturday in Nowlan Park, which would you think?
I had a poke the other day at the umpires at an inter-county minor game I attended, who were unsure of one shot taken during that game. In the instantly-recognisable glance they shot each other, they advertised their indecision, the crowd started roaring, and everyone knew a score was up for grabs.
It would be reassuring to know that there is a specific protocol that match officials can follow in such instances, a best-practice positioning of the umpires which would give a better view of the proceedings. Ah well.
Related: I here offer my thanks to Tipperary midfielder Conor Cashman, who took the time to tell me via social media that I has assigned scores mistakenly to him in my match report. Much obliged, Conor, and my apologies to Ben Hyland, the sharpshooter alongside him that I swindled out of a few points, though luckily all was resolved before the paper went to print.
I still think the Tipperary County Board has a case to answer with those jersey numbers, but mea culpa.
Amazed to see Vin Scully of the Los Angeles Dodgers still broadcasting in America.
The legendary commentator has a style all his own.
I’m amazed because Scully is 88 and started commentating with Brooklyn in 1950.
The above video is from last Friday night’s broadcast.
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