Sport is not war, games are not conflict

The great American comedian George Carlin had a terrific routine in which he talked about the language used in American football, writes Michael Moynihan.

Sport is not war, games are not conflict

In the sport, he said, the object of the game was the quarterback, also known as the field general, staying on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defence by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he had to use the shotgun for short bullet passes and long bombs.

I was reminded of Carlin’s routine when reading a terrific piece by Peadar King for the RTÉ website during the week.

King spoke about the ridiculously overblown language of war that is used to describe sport - going to war, rolling out the big guns, do-or-die missions, battling against overpowering odds and - my own particular favourite King citation, a wayward reference to the Dunkirk spirit.

The Dunkirk spirit?

I don’t exempt myself from this tendency: I’ve made a conscious attempt in recent years not to talk about warriors, though I put my hand up about early skirmishes and killing off the opposition. I’m not perfect.

Peadar King is better placed than most to distinguish between war and sport. He’s the producer and presenter of Where In The World, the RTÉ series that reports on global affairs, often from marginalised, downtrodden or chaotic regions. In the piece he made the valid point that co-opting the terminology of war downplays the reality of war in “places we no longer hear or indeed care much about,” as he put it: “Yemen. South Sudan. Somalia. Central African Republic. The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mali. Laos. Places where no oil flows.

He was able to refer to a recent stint in Aleppo, for instance, which has come to resemble a post-apocalyptic wasteland and his encounter with the reality of war and its victims, like Nour Aslo, a former Syrian international basketball player.

A couple of years ago she went to watch a basketball game and her sister got a phone call: Nour had been injured.

“When we arrived at the hospital,” her sister said, “She (Nour) was in the intensive care unit. After a while, doctors came and told us that my sister couldn’t make it. The bullet had gone through her heart and killed her.”

No talk about do-or-die or laying it on the line, being in the trenches or going to war. Just the dreadful banality of having part of your family reduced to a statistic.

Sports isn’t alone in this, of course. A few weeks ago Marjorie Brennan of this parish wrote about the tendency to articulate dealing with cancer as ‘battling’ with the disease, or to say someone had lost that battle if they passed away (a discussion all too relevant now, given the news which emerged on Friday evening about Liam Miller). Professor John Crown, Senator and oncologist, took this view of that language: “It is a bit of an anachronism at this stage, I don’t tend to use it.

“For individual patients, I totally understand the sensitivity about using the word ‘war’ and I think there is a real move away from using that term. You don’t die from cancer because you didn’t try hard enough. It is important to realise that cancer is not something we can overcome with willpower.”

Moving away from the war talk would be a step forward all round.

George Carlin would finish off his American football routine by comparing it to another sport, by the way: “In baseball the object of the game is to go home - and be safe: I’ll be safe at home.”

Enjoying eir but attacking Sky doesn’t stack up

Perhaps Sky Sports should change its name to Spéir Sports while broadcasting GAA games.

There seems to be a far warmer welcome for eir Sport’s coverage of hurling and football early this year than for their Murdoch-owned counterparts. This is partly attributable to the personal magnetism of Tommy Walsh, but not all of it, surely.

It’s an interesting additional ingredient to the complicated relationship between the average GAA fan and the Association’s broadcasting partners because the original sins of Sky - pay-per-view and small viewing figures - don’t seem to be held against eir. Or perhaps they’re forgiven at source. My canon law is pretty rusty.

Where this leaves RTÉ is its usual spot: in the middle of the bullseye. The national broadcaster has plenty of press officers to fight its corner, but it seems odd to this column that it gets a poke for not covering more games at a time when the GAA’s avowed wish is for diversity in its broadcasting partners and spreading coverage between them.

By way of disclosure your columnist is happy to point out that he has worked on a couple of documentaries which have been broadcast on RTÉ, just in case anyone might think there was some secret agenda being pushed unknown to you, gentle reader.

An unlikely proposition I know, but better to be safe than sorry.

Liam Miller lived the dream

There’s been no shortage of sympathy expressed on the passing of Liam Miller at such a tragically young age, and the esteem in which the Corkman was held can be gauged by the variety and sincerity of those tributes.

This columnist didn’t know Miller but admired his quiet efficiency on the field, the calm passing and linking movement that lubricates all efficient teams. More than one observer has pointed out that a playing career which includes Celtic and Manchester United is so dazzling that it resembles a small child’s dream rather than reality.

But Liam Miller lived that dream. He pulled on two of the most famous jerseys in world sport. Those weren’t unfulfilled ambitions or idle fantasies, but part of his CV. It was good that Cork City also appeared on that CV, because it’s fair to say that the city and county were deeply saddened by the news which broke on Friday night. May he rest in peace.

Losing sense of place with bookshop closure

Sad to see the demise, or impending demise, of the Liam Ruiseal bookshop in Cork. For many years the shop on the corner on Oliver Plunkett Street was an established stop on many a stroller’s Saturday visit to the city, and the streetscape will hardly be improved by its absence.

It’s a worry for anyone who believes in the value of difference and individuality in an urban space - with respect to the overseas chains which provide employment here, there’s a depressing cookie-cutter quality to many a main street now in Ireland. You could be anywhere in Europe, practically, with the same shops and frontage everywhere you look. Or perhaps you like that sense of not knowing you’re in Cork, or Dublin, or Waterford, with only the accents telling you that you’re not in Hull or Lille or Antwerp. If so, I fear that good times are ahead for you.

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