Tag Archives: sport

Patriot Claims

Starbucks Ireland found itself in hot, mediocre coffee-flavoured water this week when it mistakenly asked its Irish Twitter followers to ‘show us what makes you proud to be British’. The backlash from the proud people of Ireland was, of course, as prompt and severe as it was inane and littered with spelling mistakes. I am still undecided as to who deserves my respect less: the computer monkeys at Starbucks whose historical gaffe must almost have had O’Connell and Parnell climbing down from their plinths to go up round the corner and crack some heads; or the pathetic group of 2,000 or so self-styled baristocrats who took time out of admiring their MacBooks to follow the pointless tweets of an enormous faceless organisation that serves hot drinks.

This indignation is no surprise of course; we Irish tend to be quite sensitive about these matters, our nationalism usually displaying itself most vehemently when the subject of old Blighty is brought up. In recent times, in particular, a veritable maelstrom of patriotic fervour seems to have gripped our stricken country.

On the one hand we have the defensive, jingoistic wailing of our socialist contingent, lamenting the loss of our sovereignty, our free water, and our jobs for white people to the maniacal fat cats in Brussels. In marked contrast to this we have also seen a much more positive exhibition of our national pride in the euphoria surrounding the impending European Championship. Tacky plastic referendum posters and tacky plastic tricolour bunting have been jostling for our attention, each intent on whipping up a frenzy of patriotism for very different reasons, the only common element being that they both look shite.

Patriotism can be something of a nebulous concept, ranging from the nostalgic fondness of an emigrant for the auld sod, to a convenient label to excuse the ignorance and xenophobia of the ultra-nationalist. Oscar Wilde labelled patriotism ‘the virtue of the vicious’; Mark Twain regarded it as an illustration of moral cowardice. Although it seems that those two spent most of their time sitting around thinking up pithy witticisms and probably should have left the house a bit more often.

While there are certainly elements of truth to their aphorisms, perhaps the most salient description was offered by George Bernard Shaw, who called it the ‘conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it’. This summation captures both the simplicity and the illogical nature of the idea of patriotism.

In this country it is almost impossible to separate our supposed patriotism from a very childish, but deep-rooted anti-English sentiment. An immensely complicated relationship with our neighbours, which has been characterised for centuries by violence and bloodshed, has essentially been reduced to the ritual of celebrating whenever an English sports team loses. The less progressive among us, of course, still cling to a mountain of sectarian prejudice, as evidenced by the bile and invective spewed by many around the time of the Queen’s visit to our shores last year. Hatred and stupidity dressed up in a Celtic jersey does not equal patriotism, but it is unfortunately all too common a sight.

One major problem is that in the current strained economic and political climate, as has always happened throughout history, more reasonable and educated people are turning to the extremist fringes of the political spectrum. Anyone who has a functional cerebral cortex and has ever read a book, other than a pamphlet entitled ‘Methadone: The Easy Way Out’, should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for even considering voting for a party like Sinn Féin. It is when their exploitative, abhorrent republican propaganda begins to seep through to the minds of previously sensible people that you really start to think that evolution might actually be a bell curve, and that we are currently entering freefall from the apex of human civilisation marked by the discovery of nuclear fission, the moon landing, and the revelation that was Angry Birds.

Where flagrant, flag-waving patriotism is concerned, however, the Irish aren’t a patch on our star-spangled friends from across the pond. When it comes to national pride, and as it happens, most other things, the US is rather like that really loud, spoilt brat from your primary school class. He’s a classless, brazen little shit who has to be the best at everything and screams the house down if he doesn’t get what he wants. But you go to his birthday party anyway because you know there’ll be rice krispie cakes, and because his mam has huge cans.

The US is a case study in using the blind patriotism of its lower echelons to its advantage, particularly when it comes to supplying the fodder necessary to flex its military might. Naive, impressionable kids grow up taking the Pledge of Allegiance and being programmed in the ways of idolatry and worship of an intangible idea of America. The chimera of American freedom, under threat from the looming shadow of terrorism, is the product of one of the most successful propaganda machines in recent history, resulting in legions of young men and women who give their lives, and take plenty too, for something they can never hope to realise. This is the most profitable form of patriotism, and its proliferation is a sad indictment of the world we live in.

The sense of wanting to belong to a tribe is very much a human trait, and this explains our affinity with people of a similar culture. However, the fact that this is usually expressed most vehemently at a national level is peculiar. Even small countries like ours encompass countless disparate peoples, religions, personalities, beliefs, and anything else which may define us. To be grouped together due to geographical circumstance, and to have a collective identity and pride, is very much a phenomenon of the modern world.

As easy as it is to be sceptical of the uninhibited, zealous patriotism of others, there is something attractive in its ability to bring people together. Which is why, even as a devoted cynic, a disillusioned, lapsed patriot, and someone who can’t stand that overblown, tedious spectacle of overpaid ball-chasing urchins that somehow passes for a sport, I’ll still be cheering for the boys in green this summer. I might even have a chuckle to myself when the English team inevitably implodes and crashes out of the tournament. I guess old habits die hard.


Indecent Proposals

A report was released by the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group this week containing a number of recommendations to the Government concerning the sale, advertisement and legislation of alcohol in this country.

As would be expected from such an exhaustively researched and ludicrously expensive report, most of its recommendations are of a mind-numbingly stupid, naive and ill-informed nature. Many of these proposals will no doubt go on to be adopted by the Government in their laudable and ever-continuing struggle to prove that  reactionary and unnecessary legislation can actually have a positive impact on society. I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

There is plenty to say on the shortcomings of this particular report, which I will get to presently, but firstly I think it is important to point out that the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group has itself been the subject of some bad press recently. The organisation was chastised in a report released just last week by the Committee for the Regulation of Clumsily Titled Governmental Bodies. It was also included in a list of the worst offenders in last month’s damning report by the Investigative Coalition into Giant Wastes of Taxpayers’ Money. Lastly, and perhaps most gravely, the group was criticised this week by the British Association of NGOs Against Non-Acronyms (or BANANA for short) for adopting such an unwieldy set of initials.

As for the report itself, it concerns itself largely with the issues of advertising and sponsorship practised by alcohol companies, and contains some elucidating statistics on the subject. Apparently 40% of 16-21 year olds own an item of clothing with an alcohol brand on it, with 26% owning a sporting jersey with an alcohol brand logo. In other obvious and irrelevant news, 97% of people have seen a pint of beer at some stage, 78% admitted to preferring drinks with tiny umbrellas in them, and a whopping eleven million per cent of Irish teenagers admitted, while in floods of shame-induced tears, that they ritually drink ten litres of vodka every night before going out, as well as sacrificing a live goat and bathing in its entrails in order to absorb its wisdom.

Forgive my facetiousness, but misplaced hysteria is becoming all too common in our society, and this ludicrous report has just dumped a veritable mountain of it on the Government’s doorstep and expects them to react accordingly. One of its suggestions is to ban alcohol sponsorship of ‘all sporting and large outdoor events’. Obviously they took a good look around the emergency rooms of our country’s hospitals, watching the deluge of young men and women staggering in, getting their stomachs pumped, and assaulting doctors and nurses, and thought to themselves, “That Heineken Cup really has a lot to answer for.” This is a group of people who don’t even understand the basic principles of cause and effect, to say nothing of possessing any knowledge of the cultural or societal or sociological reasons for our multitude of substance abuse problems. The sheer stupidity of commissioning such a group to write a very costly report on the subject is breathtaking.

Another proposal is one that has been talked about recently and looks set to be passed into law in the near future: the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol. This is presumably set to work in tandem with the existing law that forces off-licenses to close at ten o’clock every night, since everyone knows that teenagers usually wait until about eleven to stock up on booze. The ignorance and myopia inherent in these kinds of laws is staggering. Attack the symptoms, not the problem itself; make it slightly more inconvenient for people to drink themselves to death, but whatever you do, don’t ask them why they do it. Then you might actually have to confront an issue head-on for once instead of just being seen to be doing something about it.

The reality is that the publicans wield a massive amount of power in the Dáil. This is why it is consistently being made more difficult and more expensive to buy alcohol outside of a licensed premises. These laws aren’t being passed so that less 16-year-olds end up in A&E on a Friday night. They aren’t being passed because Guinness advertisements are so insidious that they subconsciously instil in you a need to go out and get hammered. And they certainly aren’t being passed to act as the catalyst for a monumental change in our attitude to drink as a country. They are being passed because our politicians are weak, lazy, and completely in thrall to the publicans.

The groups tirelessly searching for a solution to our drinking problem will not find it in prohibition or restriction. A fundamental shift in the outlook and practises of an entire society is not something that can be accomplished in the short-term. One thing is definite: that it is impossible to attack a problem before first understanding it. And the understanding of a complex issue such as this certainly does not lie in how many T-shirts you own that contain the logo of a beer company. When faced with such idiotic reasoning, is it any wonder so many of us are driven to drink?

National Anathema

Watching the Irish rugby matches over the past few weeks I’ve been reminded of just how awful our national anthem is when compared to those of other nations. Considering Amhrán na bhFiann is all about soldiers, conflict and beating back hordes of thieving Saxons, you would expect it to be a bit more rousing and exciting. As it is, the monotonous dirge that is usually droned along to in a half-hearted fashion couldn’t be any less inspirational. Apparently Yeats was right; romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary…who didn’t even make the squad. To be fair, our anthem is still significantly better than that Phil Coulter abomination that we have to sing to placate the Ulster lads, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.

Written in 1907, the song soon became a popular marching tune for the Irish Volunteers. It was also sung by the rebels in the GPO during the Easter Rising. Funnily enough, the song wasn’t translated into Irish until after 1916. The image of young, rebellious Irish freedom fighters singing a nationalistic war tune in the King’s English seems a bit incongruous. Then again, that entire conflict was basically a suicide mission dreamed up by some deranged homosexual poets who wanted to die a bloody and glorious death and bring as many innocent, impressionable Irish kids with them as possible. So I suppose it wasn’t the strangest part of those few days.

Among other rugby nations, in particular, our anthem falls disappointingly short. The Six Nations tournament boasts some seriously impressive anthems. God Save the Queen, while inherently akin to fingernails on a blackboard for Irish people, does in fairness have a certain bombastic quality. The lyrics may be imperialistic nonsense that belongs in the dark ages, but it’s a catchy tune. The Welsh anthem is similarly pleasing to the ear, helped greatly by the fact that every Welshman is blessed with an incredible singing voice. And the fact that Katherine Jenkins is often the one singing it.

The Scots touch on similar themes to us, but in a much more violent fashion. Flower of Scotland is basically a history lesson and an Anglophobic hate crime rolled up into a Highlands tune, which is why everyone loves it so much. The French have La Marseillaise, possibly the catchiest anthem of them all. It’s a stirring and upbeat tune that is always sung with great gusto and passion, and best of all it ensures that two whole minutes can pass without the French booing their own players. Finally we have the Italian anthem, which, while a little dated at this stage, is still a great sing-along tune, and accurately encapsulates the Italian personality.

Our own national song definitely needs some updating if it’s to compete with its contemporaries. A competition to find a worthy replacement would appear to be in order, and could take the place of our ridiculous annual search for new victims to send to the Eastern Bloc love-in that is the Eurovision. I’ll give you a heads-up lads, if we’ve never had a genocidal dictator then we’re not going to win. Those depressingly generic landlocked Soviet abortions of countries have it all sewn up. They all give each other douze points every year, and in return they have a free trade between themselves in worker donkeys, landmine detectors and framed photographs of Stalin that they can hang over their cooking pot and spit on whenever they pass by. That’s what the Western European media tells me anyway, I don’t see why they’d lie.

If we couldn’t find a suitable entry from Ireland, we could always get some professional help. Perhaps we could pool together what little cash we have left and pay Hans Zimmer or John Williams or the like to compose a dramatic new piece that would be the envy of the anthem community. Although the Garda band might have to expand its ranks a little in order to do it justice. Walking all those cellos onto the Croke Park pitch every weekend would be a bit of a chore.

The other alternative, of course, would be to adopt an existing song as our new anthem. Something that reflects the direction we’re heading in, like this Talking Heads number. Having it sung at national occasions would hardly be uplifting, but at least it would show a realistic approach to our current situation. In a few years we’ll probably be forced into adopting some sort of happy-clappy pan-European anthem anyway, so we might as well enjoy our autonomy while it lasts, and have a bit of fun with our new anthem. Just make sure nobody tells Phil Coulter about it.

The Hour of London

Celebrations were held in London this week to mark the fact that only one year remains until the 2012 Olympic Games are upon us. Next summer will see the city play host to the world’s most eminent sporting event, with the best athletes from around the globe coming together to compete.

The modern Olympics have changed drastically since the first tournament was held in 1896, now basically consisting of massively expensive and ostentatious opening and closing ceremonies, with a few races thrown in here and there for good measure. Next year’s opening ceremony will be overseen by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle. Perhaps the ceremony will be based on one of his films: an extravagant, futuristic celebration based on Sunshine? A Trainspotting-inspired journey through the darker recesses of urban British counterculture? Or maybe a return to the zombie-infested London of 28 Days Later, complete with Thriller-esque choreography? Whatever he decides to include, it seems the ceremony is in safe hands. Let’s just hope it doesn’t last for 127 Hours. Or star James Franco.

The Olympics used to be all about the events, and for the purists there is no better example of the famous adventurous Olympic spirit than the 1900 Games held in Paris. The Games were held for over five months, and along with the usual sports like athletics, football and gymnastics, certain events were trialled over the course of the Games that failed to become official Olympic sports. Among the stranger contests held this year were firefighting, hot air ballooning, delivery van racing and poodle clipping. The most bizarre, however, and certainly one that wouldn’t be allowed today, was live pigeon shooting. Nearly 300 pigeons were killed in the event, with the winner reaching a tally of 21. Pretty impressive considering Dastardly and Muttley couldn’t even get one.

Of course the 2012 Olympics will feature some ridiculous events too. Dressage, for instance, essentially involves a group of insanely rich toffs who are all related to each other trotting around on their horses. The medal is then awarded to whichever of them looks the most upper class. There is also the rhythmic gymnastics section, in which artificially shrunken pre-pubescents pretend to be cats and roll around with ribbons and balls and other feline accoutrements. Whoever comes fourth in gruelling events like the marathon each year must be really pissed to see one of these tiny cat-people come away with a gold medal after playing around on the floor for a while.

The Olympics these days is more about personalities than anything else. Firstly there’s athletics superstar Usain Bolt, the chicken nugget-powered fastest man in the world over 90 metres, at which point he slows down and moonwalks the rest of the race just to mock his inferior opponents. Secondly, adopted American son and über-celebrity David Beckham, who has stated he wants to play for the British football team in 2012. Maybe if they win they’ll finally give over about 1966. Let’s just hope it doesn’t go to penalties. And thirdly, eh, that Canadian curling guy. Yeah, him.

Aside from these few colourful characters, the inevitable bone-crunching falls in gymnastics, and the excitement of watching the hammer and the javelin in the hope that someone gets nailed in the head, there is very little of interest in the Olympics. A West African will run really fast and win the race. A Bulgarian bloke called Artem with no neck will lift slightly heavier things than anyone else and win a medal. And whatever Belgian cyclist has pumped himself so full of drugs that his heart beats about 700 times per minute but not so full of drugs that his calves explode, will win the cycling events. All very predictable and not very exciting.

What the Olympics needs is a breath of fresh air, something to reinvigorate it and make it compelling viewing once more. While going back to some of the events of the 1900 Games is probably not the way to go, there may be some inspiration to be gleaned from going back even further, to the Ancient Olympic Games.

Traditionally the last event of the Ancient Games was the ‘Hoplite race’, in which competitors had to compete in full body armour, including helmet and shield. This would certainly make the 800 metres a bit more interesting. Or the Olympic boxers could take their example from the Greek competitors who weighted their leather gloves with metal. Hitting a man when he was down was perfectly legal, however if you went too far and killed him, he was automatically declared the winner. Bit of a Pyrrhic victory really. One tradition that isn’t likely to be revived, however, is the nakedness of all competitors in the Ancient Games. Although it would probably make beach volleyball even more popular with male viewers.

Maybe all the Olympics needs is a new image. Its motto, ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’, isn’t exactly awe-inspiring. How about ‘5 Rings to Rule Them All’, or ‘The Olympics – Drug Free Since, eh, the Last Olympics’. Although the way things are going, in a few years the motto will probably be ‘The Olympics – Silver Medals for Anyone Who Isn’t Chinese’.

The 2012 mascots are similarly disappointing. The puzzlingly named Wenlock and Mandeville sound like gay lovers from some rejected BBC period drama set in the stables of a stately home. They don’t even look particularly athletic, seeing that they are supposedly made of steel. The whole cycloptic thing they have going on can’t be much good for their depth perception either. They’d never get out of the blocks in the delivery van race, and as for poodle clipping, forget about it, they don’t even appear to have fingers.

Despite the somewhat faded grandeur of the modern Olympics, I will still no doubt be glued to the television for its duration. It only comes around every four years, and is the pinnacle of achievement for the athletes who have trained so hard and sacrificed so much to be there. Which is what makes it all the more enjoyable when they fail spectacularly. Now I’m off to find some pigeons. I reckon I can beat 21 before the day is out.