The year gone by showed just how rancid much of our sport and those involved in it have become, and with that in mind the year ahead needs to be the beginning of massive change
Open all the windows. Open the doors if you must. Anything to try and rid us of that foul stench for 2016 has left the smell of sulphur rich and brutal in our nostrils. The upside is that the year ahead can’t get any worse, but it would want to get a whole lot better as our patience and tolerance are running low and our moral compass is telling us to get as far away as possible.
In the run up to Christmas, an investigation by the Indianapolis Star and USA Today released some sickening results. It emerged that at least 368 gymnasts across their country alleged they were the victims of sexual abuse over the last 20 years. It was also claimed USA Gymnastics didn’t monitor predatory coaches, allowing them to move freely between certified gyms. Back in August that very organisation was heralded, picking up 12 medals at the Olympics with golden girl Simone Biles one of the faces of the Games. If true though, this is the latest example of sport taking spotlight credit while, away from the fame, neglecting it’s most basic duty of care to those who place trust in it.
That it coincided with the heart-wrenching tales emerging from football in the UK made it somehow harder still to digest. Sport and those over it are of course not to blame for the crimes of the few but, in such cases, it is in part to blame for not stopping those crimes through checks and balances. And while such tragedies are far bigger than sport, sport is not bigger than them. What we have here are the most terrible symptoms, but symptoms nonetheless.
Today, much of our sport lies in ruin. How did we get here? How did it come to this? Take Pat Hickey as the perfect example as, home for the holidays with his family and friends, he is a microcosm of the attitude of sport to what is right and what is wrong for they’ve been blurred.
With Brazilian police in possession of a large folder of charges and evidence against him over ticketing theft, many will rightly say innocent until prove guilty. Absolutely, but let’s see if he returns to listen to the music and don’t forget the sort of man we are dealing with. A bully too famed for his writs, it gets far worse. Remember the cases of George Gibney abusing young girls he trained in our swimming programme? Well after his unchased extradition from America, one victim tried to kill herself only to be found by a priest just in time and she took a civil case that lay dormant for too long and was struck out in 2009. For a period after the ruling Hickey’s OCI went after the victim for costs of €95,000 they’d been awarded. When journalist Justine McCarthy got wind she emailed Hickey and the OCI about the morals in spite of the ruling. The response came not from him but from their solicitors.
And still he was in Brazil representing us. Still the Olympic movement have paid for his bail of €410,000 so he could leave for claimed heart surgery when the health of that organ could be questioned long before now. The irony of course is that if he is indeed unwell, it’s lucky he got out as these Games have bankrupted Rio de Janeiro to the point hospitals and everything else are being shut so he and his ilk could party. Just last month in fact, police even entered a local church against the priest’s wishes to shoot rubber bullets at protesting civil servants who were owed over four months wages.
Don’t for a moment think that those who care about sport want to be talking about this. That we wouldn’t rather end one year talking of the genius of Diarmuid Connolly, the miracle of Dundalk, the New Zealand victory, and pulling like dogs. Or that we wouldn’t rather start another talking about the proximity of World Cup qualification, the talent pool in Leinster, and the fact Carl Frampton is on the verge of becoming our greatest ever boxer. It’s just that all of it pales beside what sport has become – a vast array of criminals and cheats and bullshitters maintaining a cosy and self-serving status quo where the rewards are great but accountability isn’t.
Pat Hickey isn’t some wart on the smooth and sallow skin of sport though, sport is the wart. And don’t think his environment is a product of him, quite the opposite. Across the Olympics, members of national associations just like Hickey were given €900 a day walking around money in their five-star hotel lobbies each morning while volunteers quit because they weren’t fed or given breaks from the burning heat. Above Hickey, the head of it all Thomas Bach pranced around calling himself a volunteer, before saying in his final press conference that it wasn’t his place to protect whistle-blowers.
Is there no shame anymore?
It’s easy to say these people don’t do their jobs but that would involve defining their jobs. All evidence says it’s to make money and trample on anyone that gets in the way. For example over in Fifa direction, Jack Warner still hasn’t even been extradited for, among other activities, directing money for Haiti earthquake relief into his own bloated account while the heads of the South African and Brazilian associations can’t even leave their country as there are arrest warrants out. And the worst part is these people ruining our sport aren’t even clever. Most are idiots. In 2015 for instance Warner released a clip of himself holding up an article about the USA hosting that year’s imaginary World Cup as a defence, only it was from the satirical website The Onion. That’s what we’ve been duped by, that’s what has robbed us.
This isn’t about being neutral, it’s about being truthful and we’re tired of it all. From those in suits to those in their gear, we’re being treated like fools from top to bottom and told it’s all good.
But it’s not.
We’re tired of Wada being reactive after the work of others, when they’ve vested interests not to show up doping. We’re tired of Russia being used as proof all is well again. We’re tired of Mo Farah not being able to answer the same question with the same answer. We’re tired of the slow unravel complete with backbiting that makes Team Sky look more and more similar to US Postal. We’re tired of Rob Heffernan palling around with convicted rule-breakers yet keeping them in the sport while bemoaning cheating. We’re tired of John Delaney insulating himself as he exposes the game he claims to have in his heart. We’re tired of the GAA talking about the complexity of caring for the club player when cutting easily through the tape of TV deals because money has an edge. We’re tired of rugby using players’ heads to gain a present profit despite a future disaster. We’re tired of Sonia O’Sullivan saying nothing when her sport needs her to say everything. We’re tired of US swimmers acting like spoiled frat boys and telling lies about ordinary petrol station workers to cover their golden arses. We’re tired of Pat Hickey and all that he embodies. We’re tired of people living and breathing the grand lie and allowing it to prosper as they smile at the pseudo-majesty.
What happened the idea of sport? Worse, what happened to the idea of human decency and of people who care about the greater good? What happened to promoting the dream of this in a world of so many other ills that we need just something that’s untainted? Of course there are good people but most cower, and the ones that don’t drown in a swamp of deception and dishonesty. There is a two-pronged approach to drain it but it’s depressingly unrealistic. Those upstairs only care about the cash of customers; those downstairs just want the glory of being seen as the best by a crowd that adores and worships them. Cut that and sport has to reset. It’s the only way.
But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.