Dr Ed Coughlan: Women's games allow us to get back in touch with the purity of sport

Summer sports offerings have been about hype and technology, but all the action without the razzmatazz could be the secret jewel in the crown of women’s sport, writes Dr Ed Coughlan.

How will the summer of 2017 be remembered in the world of sport? We had no FIFA World Cup, no UEFA European championships, and no Olympic Games.

On reflection, so far, the summer has been uninspiring.

As a fervent sports fan, I found myself even tuning into the America’s Cup to get some excitement, but it flattered to deceive.

Something as unpredictable as sailing now sells itself as the formula one of the seas. Much like formula one, so much of the competition appears to depend on the calibre of the engineer and designer in the factory, on land, and less so on the competitors on board, at sea. 

There is no doubting the skill of those athletes who sail and drive in both sports, but the surge in technology has subsumed the human element and so we are left a little detached from the action.

In contrast, as a result of technology we know everything we could possibly want to know and much of what we didn’t need to know about the Lions before they ever set foot in New Zealand for their five-week tour.

This ever-growing juggernaut of technology meant we had more ways and means of connecting with our rugby stars, long before a tackle was made. 

Excessive numbers of apps, software analytics, and dead time on TV meant we had so much information before a ball was kicked that the tour will go down in the history as the most hyped ever.

Incredibly, and almost by default, it managed to somewhat live up to the hype. I shudder to think of the damp squib it would have become if Sonny Bill Williams had not tackled high with his shoulder in the second test. A tackle we had to endure from every conceivable angle, at multiple camera speeds with unapologetic sensationalism from the commentators and all before the studio panel got their hands on the joystick at half-time.

Speaking of unapologetic sensationalism from our TV commentators, the IAAF Athletics World Championships, that will conclude in London this weekend, has been ruined by the BBC. 

This should have been a highlight of the summer’s sport schedule. Instead it has become a cringe-fest of poor reporting, epitomised by their handling of the Usain Bolt swansong.

There was a sense of disgust and even betrayal that Bolt had not won, for them. The smugness that underpinned the fact that London had secured Bolt for his final individual race was swiftly wiped from their faces when Justin Gatlin won. 

Their agenda robbed us of a brilliant race. The script the BBC had written for their opening weekend’s coverage had no back-up plan. 

Determined to make this the most hyped up race in recent times, not because of any apparent rivalry, but just to watch Bolt’s last win, was exposed for the sham it really was. For example, during the post-race review the number of race re-runs were significantly curbed, replaced by Bolt’s lap of honour. So much for impartial reporting.

The London Olympics in 2012 was the greatest Olympics I have ever witnessed. It has also turned out to be one of the dirtiest. For some reason, the BBC appears to have taken that statistic personally. 

It chose to avoid any meaningful discussion and exposure of the problem and, surely with its reach, the broadcaster could have a significant impact on fighting the crime that is bringing the sport to its knees.

Instead, they prefer to make a mountain out of the gastroenteritis molehill that has befallen the championships.

Closer to home, the Gaelic football championship punditry is also becoming
tiresome. Only now, at the semi-final stage, does it get interesting. So what of all the filibustering to feign excitement up to this point? 

In fact, if Kerry and Dublin do not emerge from the next round, it will be the first shock of the season, such is the inevitability of what is coming next.

Thank goodness for hurling this summer. Games have been brilliant from the outset, with teams such as Wexford and Cork exceeding expectations from day one. Last weekend’s semi-final was more of the same, and this week’s game promises another feast.

However, on reflection, hurling is not alone in providing us with some excitement this summer. Jordan Spieth’s back nine at The Open will be in the highlight reel for the summer and his battle with Rory McIlroy to complete the career grand slam will no doubt keep our attention at this week’s PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.

One particular treat that I uncovered, by accident, was the UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 Championships in the Netherlands.

What a cracking competition, made all the more appealing by the fact that the host nation sprung the greatest surprise of all by winning the tournament in front of their home fans, beating Denmark 4-2 last Sunday.

The skills on show were sublime. The physicality reminded me of a time when football was a contact sport. There was no disgraceful diving, nor attacks on the referees and any handbags at the tournament were those left in the dressing room.

Furthermore, because I had not been bombarded with information about who’s who beforehand, I was left to enjoy the football at face value.

Commentary was knowledgeable and balanced. Even when England were making their way into the semi-finals, where they lost to the eventual winners, they were not treated to the drivel their perennial underachieving male counterparts have to endure.

This summer, I have found myself trying to connect with the purity of sport again, respectful of the fact that technology is not going away and, in some cases, is definitely adding to the viewing experience. The shot tracker in golf is one case in point.

However, I have found myself seeking sport without the razzmatazz. Just the sport. And maybe that is the secret jewel in the crown of women’s sport. Hopefully, equality and equity will come in the not too distant future, but not at the expense of losing the purity of sport, as has happened in the men’s equivalent.

Exposure is not all that it is cracked up to be. There is something highly appealing about exceeding expectations. Under-selling before over-delivering.

Mainstream sport has a lot to learn from those who have to survive without the riches of excessive investment. Those who have bulging budgets are forced to come up with ways to spend it, and in many cases, have not spent it wisely.

I remember a time when, if the sport was good enough, the story would tell itself and, for that reason, I am delighted the wait for the Women’s Rugby World Cup is over.

The tournament has only 12 teams across three pool groups, with the top team from each group going straight into the semi-finals, as well as the highest second placed team. This leaves little room for error, heightening the tension from day one of the tournament.

Ireland, as host nation, will give it everything they have got and maybe will even take a leaf from the Dutch footballers and upset the odds by keeping the trophy here when the tournament ends in a few weeks.

Summer 2017 could still go down in history as a cracker and one for the
record books.

Over to you, our women in green. #BringIt

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