Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Viewpoint: Sport the arena of many dreams

One week the England cricket team wins back the Ashes at the Oval in a convincing display against Australia, and several days later it narrowly avoids defeat at Stormont by a spirited Ireland team.

Such are the vagaries of sport, though the English victory at Stormont was aided in no small manner by the former Ireland player Eoin Morgan, whose stunning piece of fielding helped stop Ireland from achieving a shock win by the narrowest of margins.

This is yet another of the “might-have-beens” of sport, though it must be admitted that the unreliable Irish weather played its part by restricting play at crucial stages of the game. Nevertheless, the Ireland team continues to create a notable international reputation.

The Stormont contest, of course, was more than a cricket match. It was an opportunity for people of all ages to watch some of the English stars at close quarters, even if most of them did not appear to be world-beaters. The encounter also provided further opportunities for those with the right connections to avail themselves of lavish corporate hospitality, even in these days of the so-called credit crunch.

Modern sport is much more than the sum of what happens on the cricket field, the tennis court or the soccer or rugby pitch. It has become a way of life for those who faithfully attend fixtures or watch the best of sport on television.

Earlier this year thousands of people on this island and the Irish all over the world were overjoyed when Ronan O’Gara kicked the points against Wales to enable Ireland to win the Grand Slam for the first time in over 60 years. A few months later, however, the Irish hero had feet of clay when an ill-judged tackle in a Test match against South Africa allowed the home team to win the game, and thus prevent the British and Irish Lions from triumphing ultimately in the Test series.

Such is sport, but even more lasting than the memory of high achievement or disasters is the discussion that will continue for years afterwards. The media commentators are almost as important as the players, and a multitude of sideline and armchair experts analyse every move.

This makes life difficult not only for the players but also for the many unfortunate referees whose crucial decisions and mistakes are highlighted by those who have the benefit of hindsight and the latest television technology.

A learned professor from Dublin suggested earlier this week that sport may even have taken the place of religion in modern society. That is a moot point, but there is no doubt that sport is now a major topic all over the world whatever the result.

Sport will long continue to be the theatre of melodrama and disasters, of triumphs and disappointments. The fact remains that, barring dreadful accidents, nobody gets killed and the players — including the brave Irish team who so nearly beat England — can live to triumph another day. Long live sport and the fans who help to make it thrive.

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