CC Issue 09 / Sport

Between the Idea and the Reality


This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

This is not a good week for a Manchester United supporter to contemplate or write about sports. Not a good week at all. One can tell themselves that, 1-0 or 6-1, it’s all the same, a loss is a loss; but in truth, all you can do is hide in bed with the covers pulled up over your face.

On Monday morning the mood deteriorated further. Someone spoiled the Raiders result for me, my torrent site takes a few days for NFL games, and having given up avoiding the TV screens at work I caught a glimpse of Richie McCaw, the All Black captain, lifting the Webb Ellis trophy. United destroyed by City, post-Campbell Raiders humiliated by the Chiefs and the Rugby World Cup final ruined…Not a good week at all.

The tournament in New Zealand commenced with much anticipation and excitement, so much so that I almost watched the opening ceremonies. Thankfully I came to my senses and realized they would not involve any actual rugby, only pointless and expensively choreographed pointlessness. Still, in my rugby-craving furor, I had gone to the effort of crafting a massive wall chart (coloured flags included); my girlfriend had vowed to watch every single match and I, feeling less ambitious, had planned out which pool matches to watch weeks in advance.

The pick of those pool matches ended up the test between Wales and South Africa. Wales featured a young side coming of age against the experience of the defending champions, the mighty Springboks. Right away the Welsh side came out, like so many Welsh sides of old, without the slightest hint of fear or intimidation. In the end South Africa could consider themselves lucky to escape with a win; especially in light of a dubious call on a Wales penalty kick.

As the pool matches slogged on I tried to convince Mei of the folly in her commitment to watch every single match. Really, who wants to watch a match between Georgia and Romania in any sport? It’s unfortunate, but like most international sports in this globalized day and age, rugby is getting rather dull. Expanding international tournaments means more work for journalists, more air time for advertisers, more funds for international governing bodies, more bums on seats (and couches), but overall less competitive entertainment for the spectator.

Eventually the quarter-finals shaped up featuring the usual suspects. New Zealand got through easily, England and South Africa unconvincingly finished on top of their groups, Australia managed to stay in the running despite a shock early loss, the French performed miserably and mutinied but were somehow still hanging around, the Home Nations of Wales and Ireland showed up to play and the plucky, but doomed upstarts, Argentina, crashed the party.

At this stage pundits and commentators might have led you to believe a whole new tournament had begun. Suddenly everyone was discussing this new, separate sport of knockout rugby. Coincidentally the masters of this specialized version of rugby, South Africa and England, crashed out at the first hurdle. New Zealand beat Argentina comfortably and once again Wales were the only side that showed any real fighting spirit in their defeat of Ireland.

The subsequent semi-finals looked to form epic finals in their own rights – a Six Nations clash between Wales and France and then a Southern Hemisphere classic between the All Blacks and the Wallabies. Sadly one insane decision from referee Alain Rolland killed off the first semi-final. In the eighteenth minute the Welsh captain Sam Warburton tackled Vincent Clerc with such force that he took Clerc right off his feet. Unfortunately Warburton let Clerc go and dropped him headfirst. The tackle was dangerous but certainly not malicious. The referee thought differently, produced a red card, sending the Welshmen off the field and condemning Wales to play over an hour with only fourteen men. ITV’s pundits were aghast at Rolland’s decision and you’d be forgiven for thinking Francois Piennaar would smash someone’s head in. Wales performed heroically over the rest of the match but finally succumbed to 8-9 loss.

At some point, some random internet site gave away the result of the second semi-final (I obviously need to start watching sports live again) and I lost almost all interest in the tournament. In the end the All Blacks showed they had learned how to play knockout rugby – they won without playing anywhere near their best – and ensured the satisfaction of the New Zealand public by winning the Webb Ellis cup (as I found out so unspectacularly in that half a second Sports Center clip).

The fireworks reverberating around Auckland on Sunday night were not unlike those flying around Manchester last week. Mario Ballotelli’s domestic antics aside, City’s thorough dismantling of United had the air of inevitability rather than shock – as though Old Trafford collectively sighed, “It is done.” The noisy neighbors had caught up, but they still lacked a sense of drama. If City had won with a last gasp goal that would have been too devastating; far too much to handle for any United fan, but certainly it would have provided a bang. Instead the sporting world was treated to yet another whimper.

***

On a serious and possibly contradictory note, rest in peace Marco Simoncelli – a sportsman who went through death’s door at full throttle. A tragedy for his friends and family and also for MotoGP to lose its rising star. A stark reminder too of the dangers in motorcycle grand prix racing.

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