18 July 2008

Irish sport, in stamp form

(Click on the image for a better view of our national misery, you voyeuristic bastards.)

This week saw the issuing by An Post, the Irish national postal service, of two stamps by the artist and sculptor Graham Knuttel on the occasion of Ireland's participation in the forthcoming Olympic Games in Beijing.

The one on the right depicts a member of our coxless four rowing crew just before they cross the line to finish fifth in their semi-final, setting a new national record in the process. He wears a scowl, at once born of the essential determination of the Olympian and the defensiveness that he must pre-emptively adopt in order to brace himself for the disappointment felt by the viewers back home. He knows that despite the thousands of hours of toil he and his team-mates have endured in the last four years, with meagre resources and nominal support from the Exchequer, all the while holding down full-time employment or education, and competing against professionals who have practically infinite wherewithal to allow them to spend as much time as they want in physical, mental and technical preparation, the people of Ireland will wonder why the crew failed to even make the final, let alone win a medal. The national airwaves will be ablaze with phone-in shows dedicated to discussing whether we should be wasting any tax-payers' money on such a bunch of losers. He will not go to London in 2012.

In the background is a decaying tree in a lush, green field. This stands for the withering of the rower's dreams in the midst of the grand celebration of human vitality that is the Olympic Games. The field also symbolises Ireland, with the tree as the Irish soul which, in these post-Celtic Tiger days, knows the price of everything.

The second stamp is similarly detailed in commentary. The first thing to note is that the female shot-putter is looking towards the top-right hand corner of the stamp, as if in disbelief at the price (82c for a stamp?!). Secondly, she is practising at home in Ireland. This is because she has failed to qualify for the Games; in fact, no Irish shot-putter did. The nation shrugs and turns on the Gaelic football (as symbolised by the Macgillycuddy's Reeks in the background, a mountain range in Kerry, Ireland's foremost Gaelic football county). The image is ambiguous: is she in training for an attempt to reach the next Olympics, or has the lack of recognition for her almost Stakhavonite devotion to her discipline driven her to bash herself over the head with her own shot?


Steve 18/7/08 11:17 PM  

Are you familiar with the expression "chip on your shoulder"? It has nothing to do with fried strips of potato if that's what you're thinking. Anyway, it appears that you might have one when it comes to Irish Olympians. Aside from that, it was an informative post.

It's interesting to contrast the national attitudes towards these dedicated athletes. I suppose I should count myself lucky that our US participants are supported so well. As it turns out, those who row crew over here live in the lap of luxury. The oar sponsorships alone probably net them millions.

fredorrarci 18/7/08 11:49 PM  

We have a funny way of treating even our very best athletes, such as the great Sonia O'Sullivan. She was the best middle distance runner in the world for a time in the mid-'90s, winning European gold in 1994 and world gold in 1995. There were huge expectations on her shoulders in Atlanta in 1996, but the final of the 5000m went disastrously for her and she failed to finish. A similar fate befell her at the following year's Europeans. Once everyone's golden girl, she now took some outrageous stick.

(In fact, even when winning at the Worlds in 1995, she got ridiculous abuse for not taking the tricolour with her on her lap of honour.)

The following year, she won both the 5000m and the 10000m at the European Championships, and at Sydney in 2000, she narrowly lost the 5000m to Gabriel Szabo in a heroically gutsy display. Everyone who had cast her aside as worthless now hopped back on the bandwagon again.

So you see how, when that is how we treat the greatest sportsperson we've ever had, how snide some people can be about those who aren't of that standard. Many here somehow feel a sense of entitlement about our representation in international sport, not stopping to realise what a miracle it is that such a tiny, insignificant country as ours has had the likes of Sonia, Michael Carruth, Wayne McCollough and our national football and rugby teams, to name just some examples to bring us such glorious days in the last twenty years. It is disgusting cynicsim masquerading as critical faculty, and it is maddening.

All that said, I should point out that there are plenty of us who do not see things this way, and we will be giving our full support to our Olympians.

Vincent Hogan wrote a fine piece in the Irish Independent on Monday which provided much of the inspiration for this post (ie. I nicked his ideas).

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