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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Me Tarzan, You Jane

Does sexism still prevail in the world of sport?

The inspiration for this topic comes from an article in this week's Sunday Independent (no, I personally didn't buy it). Written by Eamonn Sweeney, it argues that Padraig Harrington is Ireland's greatest ever sportsman. A valid argument, perhaps, and most certainly a topical one. It's even one I proposed last Monday morning in work. Yet, I was struck by one line in the article.

Ronnie Delany's Olympic gold medal over 1,500m in 1956 marks him down as one of our very greatest as does John Tracey's silver medal in the 1984 marathon in a time which would have won any Olympics before or since. Eamonn Coghlan and Sonia O' Sullivan were world champions in their day and world class for many years....

Three of the athletes in this sentence have won Olympic Medals - only two of them are mentioned. Why did Mr. Sweeney omit O' Sullivan's silver medal in the 5000m in Sydney? He goes on

Harrington's current number three position (in the World Golf Rankings) is...uniquely impressive in Irish sport.

Yet this is not unique. In 1995, O' Sullivan was named Women's Track and Field Athlete of the Year and as recently as May of this year, Jessica Kuerten was also ranked Number 2 in the world in show jumping. (She may have been higher at one point but I can't prove this, yet I think she was. She is Number 7 for the month of July.)

Now, I'm not accusing Mister Sweeney of sexism here. I read his articles every week. Opinion pieces on sport are designed to provoke discussion and that is all that I am doing here, albeit not on the topic he proposed. However, I do wonder whether there is sexism in the coverage of sports and if this is justified?

Studies show that men's sport gets the lion's share of coverage. This is a broad statement but is generally true for almost all sports and almost all countries. A quick trip to an academic library will show bias both in the amount of coverage, and in the way women athletes are personified. Galleries such as this one are often devoted to women athletes, but rarely to men (not that I'd be looking!). This is an issue which has been discussed in other blogs by people far more qualified than I.

Yet, I regard this as fair. I recently discussed this with a friend of mine where I (successfully... I think) argued that men are superior to women. I don't mean better, but I mean of higher rank or importance. It's a controversial argument, and I'm not saying that men are better than the fairer sex. However, I do argue that due to historic and social reasons, men are the prevailing sex in society.

The same is true in sport. Women's sport has always been second best. It was 1984 before women were deemed capable of running an Olympic marathon. While men's finals in football, rugby, GAA and basketball were given prominent TV coverage in markets across the world for years, only recently have women's finals come close to this. Even then, viewing figures and attendances are rarely comparable.

This does not mean that the accomplishments of female athletes should be devalued. O' Sullivans medal should be mentioned and journalists in particular should ensure that they are not discriminatory. My mum was angered by this article. She emailed Eamonn Sweeney who kindly replied admitting his mistake. A small victory for feminism!

So what do you think? I'm quite happy with the status quo, because I think it reflects what audiences want. Journalism should not be sexist, but the coverage of sports should reflect the wants of it's audience. However, I am a man, and would love to know if any of the gals out there disagree and think they're under-represented. Leave me a comment.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Swinging For The Olympics

Not long left now. Only 12 days until the Opening Ceremony of the greatest show on earth. As a forewarning, this could be an exclusively Olympic zone for two-three weeks in August. I enjoy them a lot, and intend to live on Chinese time throughout.

The TV companies are ramping up their coverage of the Games already. Here in Ireland RTE are running an excellent documentary series on our athlete heading over there - well worth checking out. Across the pond, the BBC will have their usual excellent coverage, the ad for which was released this week. Take a look.

The ad is based on the 70's TV show, Monkey. It in turn, though Japanese, was the story of a Chinese folk tale from the 16th Century, hence the Beijing link. Now, I never got into it when it was on Saturday mornings so I may be biased, but I don't get the Monkey/Olympics link.

As a piece of animation it's lovely. Don't get me wrong. Technically the piece is flawless. However, while I may be in the minority, I do not understand the thinking behind using this TV show to advertise the games.

There are celeb links to the piece. The score for it is composed by Damon Albarn from Blur and Gorillaz. Now, he's also the brains of a stage version of the show which would no doubt see increased business as a result of the Monkey nostalgia, though I'd never be one to suggest that the BBC are getting a famous name to promote the Olympics in return for some fringe benefits for him...

I'd love someone to explain the thinking behind this to me. Why is Monkey a better choice than, say, athletes running over the Great Wall Of China or RTE's more traditional offering. (Can't find a link to that, but I like this news story about Olympic preparations on rte.ie)

So, if anyone out there can convince me I'm wrong about the Monkey link I'd love to hear from you. I hope that this is the only fault I have with this year's Olympics, but if I do have an issue, then I shall air my grievences here. Let the (monkey) Games begin...

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Looking Back On Liston

Sonny Liston is still the heavyweight king. God save the king. God save boxing.

That was the opening of the Sports Illustrated report on Sonny Liston's win over Floyd Patterson which took place 45 years ago today. To call it a fight would be an insult - Liston knocked Patterson out in just over 2 minutes and had him on the deck three times. It was to be the only successful defence of his short reign s World Heavyweight Champion. In February 1964, Liston met a young fighter named Cassius Clay and the rest, as they say, is the greatest story in the history of sport.

Tonight I want to talk about Liston. The Big Bear is, for me, the most fascinating character ever to grace the ring. No other fighter has drawn the scorn given to him. In life, and in death, he is an enigmatic man who deserves more than the footnote currently given to him in the annals of boxing history.

I'm not defending Sonny Liston. His links to the mob are undeniable and the fifth round against Ali in Miami in February 1964 was not the only time that he used a dirty trick in the ring. However, I am saying that boxing should remember Liston, and realise that we should remember him as much more than a brutish thug.

The rematch in Knoxville, Kentucky is a case in point. The common consensus is that Liston threw the fight, taking a dive in the first round after Ali threw the so-called 'phantom' punch. However, let's suppose for a moment that the punch caught Liston off balance and knocked him to the canvas. Would you get up if this was the scene waiting for you?? Liston did, after Ali was sent to a neutral corner (a rule which is staandard today but was new at the time) before he got up and fought on for 20 seconds. At that point journalist Nat Fleischer told referee Jersey Joe Walcott that Liston had been off his feet for more than ten seconds, prompting Walcott to end the fight there and then. Liston may have taken a dive, but if he did not, then he was robbed in this fight.

His death was also strange. He died in suspicious circumstances Las Vegas in December 1970, as a pauper. Once feared (rather then revered), he was buried in a pauper's funeral in the town where only years earlier, millions had been bet on his fights. However, as a boxer, his professional career got an even less respectful passing that night in Lewiston. Sure, he fought on for five more years, but for all intents and purposes Liston was never to be the same fighter again.

I've always wanted to make/see a film about Liston's life. It would be a fascinating story, one that could put a human face on the man who has been characterized as a villian. It could tell us of a man who wanted to be accepted, who cried when he was neither applauded nor even respected as the Heavyweight Champion of the World. We could learn of a boxer who never could shake off the 'born on the wrong side of the tracks' tag, not even in death.

Liston once said that "Some day they're gonna write a Blues for fighters. It'll just be for slow guitar, soft trumpet and a bell." Mark Knopfler has already written one for Sonny alone.

The writers didn't like him

The fight game jocks

With his lowlife backers

And his hands like rocks

They didn't want to have A bogey man

They didn't like him

And he didn't like them

Monday, 21 July 2008

Tough Times For Le Tour

Just noticed this article on Sports Illustrated. RIDER IN DRUG TEST SHOCK. It seems that they now regard it as news for a cyclist to be tested for drugs. How sad. I love the Tour De France. Genuinely. For drama there is little to equal it. By that I only refer to what happens on the roads. The drugs lark afterwards merely saddens me.

I'm also deeply annoyed by the coverage of the Tour, particularly by the American media. They're not interested that Frank Schleck is in yellow, more that he is being tested. They're not looking to talk about the race but in the race to catch the next cheat (with the notable exception of former rider Bobby Julich on ESPN).

This does not help cycling. As a sport, it is ridding itself of the scurge of drugs. It could ignore the problem of steroids like the NFL and MLB have done, but instead cheats are outed, champions are stripped of their crowns and teams who have transgressed the rules are no longer welcome back.

What always got to me was the coverage of Lance Armstrong. Europeans are cheats but he is a legend. The cancer survivor could do no wrong in the eyes of some. Nike ordained him a hero, his autobiography was lapped up by his fans and for a time, cycling was the sport to follow for three weeks every July. The smell of EPO may have tainted his wins in Europe, but on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Lance could do no wrong.

I'm not saying that Lance Armstrong took performance enhancing drugs. Let me make that clear...if only for legal reasons! I'm sure there are plenty of legitimate reasons for the sudden improvement in form that he expeienced post-cancer. I like this one, taken from his Wikipedia.

A recent article claims that the American legend's testicular cancer actually helped him during the Tour de France.[8] The article outlines that surgical removal of testicles (even one) re-positions the body's hormonal system, playing with the feedback system of normal testosterone production. Consequently, a cascade of events which allegedly favour or enhance endurance performance is proposed by the authors.

I'm sure.

Armstrong has never tested positive for drugs and is, officially, clean. That must be made clear. However, one other thing should also be pointed out. Last week, Manuel Beltran tested positive for EPO. This is the same Manuel Beltran who spent three years as a team-mate to Armstrong at U.S Postal/Discovery Channel, during the last three years of Lance's domination of Le Tour. Lance was also, at one stage or another, helped to his titles by Ivan Basso, Tyler Hamilton, Roberto Heras, Floyd Landis and Gianpaolo Mondini who have all tested positive or admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. This is not proof of systematic doping at the team, but if it were the team of a leading French/Italian/German/Spaniard as opposed to an American, then the US press would certainly take a different tone.

So please, continue to follow the tour. If you are not a fan of cycling then at least watch Wednesday's stage, finishing at the summit of the fearsome Alpe D'Huez. However, be mindful of coverage which is filtered through Lance-tinted glasses.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Shut Your (Get In The) Holes!

Today's a great day for Irish sport. Padraig Harrington has, for the second successive year, collected the Claret Jug as the winner of the British Open. His last nine holes took just 32 shots and his approach to the 17th green was, in a nutshell, remarkable. (bit early to provide a youtube link but if you find one then leave a comment)

Golf's a great spectator sport, even on TV. I enjoyed this afternoon, even if it did not have the drama of last year's playoff win over Garcia. To be fair, it never could. The problem with golf though, is the peons who go to tournaments and, cleverly, shout 'get in the hole' at every shot.

I'm not the first to give out about this problem. I won't be the last either. But when drives from over 400 yards are sent off to the mantra of the morons, you have to wonder how can we fix this problem?

Personally, I advocate a shoot on sight policy. Seriously. It's not like these guys are suggesting something that the golfers haven't already thought off. These people are useless cretins and are destroying the sport from within. At the very least they should be kicked off the course by some burly bodyguards, never to return. Ever. I have never heard a logical argument that explains the enslaught of this stupidity. I hate them. Even one of the greatest shots of all time is forever ruined by them. Happy Gilmore has a lot to answer for...

Let's Remember The Best Of The Memory Man

Tonight I watched The Lee-Gibbs fight from the University of Limerick on RTE Two. Grand fight. Good to see Lee back fighting fit. I felt he was robbed against Vera but toinght he put that behind him. He took some nice shots but threw more of his own. Good to see a genuinely nice guy get on in the world.

However, I'm not going to talk about him tonight. I want to talk about Jimmy Magee.

For those of you not from Ireland, Jimmy Magee has been one of the key voices of sport here since before the Stone Age. He commentated on some of the biggest moments in sport - Ireland's Quarter Final in Italia 90, McGuigan beating Pedroza and England-Argentina in 1986. However, as you've probably noticed... Jimmy isn't the youngest these days. His Wikipedia entry says that he is 73, though I wouldn't be surprised if it's off by a century or two.

Now, I am a big fan of The Memory Man. He was involved in Know Your Sport (God rest it's soul) which is worth three thumbs up from me right off the bat. Yet I'm almost certainly in the minority. Forum posts here and here give you an idea of what some people think of him, and they're just from tonight. Unfortunately, they're probably correct too.

I realise that Jimmy has had a tough year. It can't have been easy to bury a son, and I know he's not long off a serious illness. For him to come back to work is remarkable. He's also probably the most suited man to talk about the history of sport - I for one would love to read his thoughts on some of the great sporting events his been to. Yet, I really never want to hear him commentate again. His best days are behind him - just see the 'Blue Panther' episode for proof. There was also one line tonight which really does not belong in the commentary of a fight:

Lee is like poetry in motion...But not like poetry you get in a book...This poetry......... has a hammer on the end of it!

Like a lot of people, I'd be very happy to see Jimmy hang up his microphone and take a well deserved retirement. However, I won't attack him like others. Jimmy was a fine broadcaster, a man who has an enthusiasm for sport that is remarkable. He loves his job, and if I were him I'd be in no rush to leave it either. And to those who want him to leave, and attack him for a lack of knowledge, remember the great times. Remember how he let Maradona's feet do the talking and how he named every Irish Olympic medalist as John Tracey won silver in 1984.

Yes, it may be time for Jimmy to go, but not before we thank and hail him as a broadcasting great.