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We can't let PR saturate our game

By Declan Bogue

A month ago, Manchester United footballers Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba went viral when a clip of them doing a bizarre handshake was posted online.

It was the usual clowning around in the training ground nonsense that happens everywhere. The two have been on this riff for a while now, with clips everywhere on the internet celebrating their 'bromance'. They mark each other's goals with a 'dab'.

So far, so inane. The kind of content that Manchester United seem happy to indulge, even when they sat in sixth place in the Premier League at one stage.

It doesn't sit easy with all. Former United defender Rio Ferdinand said: "I'm all for having a bit of fun on social media, but when you're fifth or sixth in the league, you're not in the Champions League positions and you're fighting. Until you're winning, that's when you go out and do stuff like that."

But, crucially, the brand is being pushed.

Ahead of last weekend's Six Nations meeting with Italy, Ireland rugby coach Joe Schmidt made it clear he would not be doing his traditional post-match briefing with daily newspaper journalists for the first time in his 52-game tenure.

"The relationship between the Irish rugby media and Irish Rugby, Joe Schmidt and his team is probably at an all-time low," said rugby writer Brendan O'Brien afterwards.

The past few days have been truly bizarre in the number of these instances.

On Thursday afternoon, the Mack The Knife boxing stable announced that they would not be working with media from the Republic of Ireland, following what they felt was unfair coverage of the company and their previous links, now severed, to Daniel Kinahan, a player in the Dublin gangland scene.

"With immediate effect, MTK Global will be boycotting all media in the Republic of Ireland and pulling out of hosting any more boxing events there for the foreseeable future," MTK CEO Sandra Vaughan said.

"Legal letters will be issued on my behalf to a number of media houses related to inaccurate and untrue articles about Daniel Kinahan's relationship to MTK and will initiate legal proceedings against all defamatory coverage going forward."

And then it transpired that Dublin's footballers, the three-in-a-row All-Ireland football champions, would not facilitate RTÉ's requests for post-match interviews.

Their gripe is rumoured to centre around a request - not fulfilled - for footage of an opposition team ahead of their meeting in the Allianz League. Dublin already do not make their players available for interview after league games. The only time you can speak to a Dublin player is at a pre-arranged press conference that will be plugging some product or other.

Manchester United can allow players to post clips of themselves goofing off, and they reach millions through their Facebook and Instagram accounts. The sponsors are front and centre and in your face.

O'Brien said later on the Schmidt embargo that the IRFU are putting more resources into and granting more access to their in-house information services, thereby squeezing access to newspaper writers.

Those who do not pay for media coverage and access are being left out in the cold and it is a trend that is growing and an attitude is filtering down into Gaelic Games. This is a dangerous development.

Modern-day sport is now intrinsically linked with sponsorship. Stadiums not far from here and further afield are already known by a corporate moniker, thereby wiping out decades or, in some instances, a century of tradition.

Companies do not like to be associated with negative coverage of the Games, even though tough conversations need to happen, such as the ones mentioned above.

Witness Galway manager Kevin Walsh's interview for the League Sunday programme last weekend. Galway and Mayo players indulged in a prolonged bout of wrestling with multiple players sent off. At one point, the camera pointed at Walsh, who was observing the scene.

In his interview, he said: "Were there handbags at the end? I don't know, I didn't see it."

This clinical coverage has led to some laughable in-house interviews, such as Martin O'Neill's interview for the FAI when he decided he would stay on as manager of the Republic of Ireland. O'Neill wasn't asked a single question about the approach from Stoke City.

Yet when RTÉ's Tony O'Donoghue had the temerity to ask for his thoughts, it led to an unedifying cringeworthy show of one-upmanship.

Journalism should always be about telling you something that somebody doesn't want you to know.

Everything else is just public relations.

Belfast Telegraph

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