1 December 2014 Edition
The pointless game with no winners
It’s difficult to see such a concept catching on in the GAA, unless one happens to be from Fermanagh
I RECALL one time collecting our Ciara from school. Normally she would be bubbly and effusive – black cat, black kitten – but this day she was less than gruntled. The cause, it transpired, was the soccer match ‘Teacher’ had organised in the yard. Don’t fret, Ciara’s displeasure was not based on cultural disdain. Rather, she was peeved over the fact that Teacher had introduced them to the concept of games in which no one wins and nobody loses.
Seemingly, some regard this as a grounding for a fair society in which everyone gets to feel good about themselves and all outcomes are the same, no matter what we do. Ants and termites thrive under such a dispensation.
The kidgers were mortified and engineered a demarche by abandoning the match when one team went a goal up! It’s difficult to see such a concept catching on in the GAA, unless one happens to be from Fermanagh.
Christopher Lasch, the American philosopher, disliked people who sought to use sport for ulterior motives, for:
“Games quickly lose their charm when forced into the service of education, character development, or social improvement.”
While Ciara’s teacher was no doubt attempting in good faith to transform the Hobbesian world of the playground into a prelapsarian Utopia, she was acting in the manner referred to by Lasch.
So too, on a vaster scale, were the totalitarians who sought to use sport to prove that the master race or party had created a new type of human. Thankfully, people have little time for that and appreciate what Lasch describes as sport’s “gloriously pointless” nature.
Sport is pointless but it also provides an outlet for aspects of human nature such as creativity, competitiveness and aggression that are not a daily part of most people’s lives. Indeed, they are positively discouraged. Try skipping the queue in the supermarket to test that hypothesis. And most people do not actively participate in sport so its emotional content is transferred onto mainly professional sportspersons. According to Johan Huizinga in Homo Ludens that encourages the spectator’s craving for “trivial recreation and crude sensationalism”.
While Huizinga may be correct with regard to televised sport (the only medium through which most people have contact with ‘live’ sport), his strictures can hardly be applied to those who watch sport in the flesh. Those who travel to Tbilisi or Tórshavn or teetotal Tehran to support the Irish soccer team, or the four mad people who travel the country with the Carlow hurlers, can hardly be depicted as mindless sensation seekers.
There is a stronger argument perhaps to be made about televised sport lowering standards, just as in popular music where what appeals most is the predictably bland. Thus, aficionados of the classic era of baseball, of the Ruths and Mantles and Jackie Robinsons, rue the advent of the designated hitter rule in 1973. Teams no longer need all-rounders, pitchers who can bat, as top cricketers can bat and bowl. Likewise, I have heard George Hook lament the passing of the old trench warfare of rugby for what he admits may be a more attractive spectator event.
I suspect, however, that, like those who miss old-style Gaelic football, Hook’s recall of the endless scrummaging and two penalties to one victories is on a par with the alleged glories of catch and kick football. That was blown out of the water in 1967 when the Aussie Rules tourists made All-Ireland champions Meath look like Sunday morning joggers thrown in against El Guerrouj.
Which brings me via a circuitous route to the Compromise Rules series. Gaelic football has long since compensated for the humiliation of 1967. Players are as fit and as physically conditioned as their professional opponents. In its classic era, people rose early on weekday mornings to pack taverns to watch what were often savage encounters.
Crude sensationalism, if you will. Now, neither side really takes it seriously, and the machismo and brutality have been censored. Neither side sends their best players and it is a minor event played in smaller arenas. So perhaps it is time to admit that the series is a beaten docket and to concentrate, as Mickey Harte has urged, on the promotion of the proper game which now prospers in many parts of globe?