Sunday, February 11, 2018

The king of sports or the sport of kings?

The big story in recent weeks - in my mind anyway as I am (very proud to be) a tiny wheel in the ATR machine and thus can't view the subject objectively - has been the news that the coverage of Irish racing will move next year from ATR to RUK.  I find this very sad.  ATR has done an outstanding job not merely of covering the racing but also of promoting it.  It is several years since I have been to the races in Ireland, but one gets the impression that the sport there currently has a great feel-good factor.  I think that the style and quality of ATR's coverage can take a lot of the credit for this, on top of the fact that this coverage is freely available for viewing in every Irish household which subscribes to Sky TV.

Racing, anywhere in the world, is always going to have an Achilles heel in that it will have the potential to be viewed as an elitist sport, which isn't great when you're trying to appeal right across the social spectrum.  Irish racing is particularly vulnerable to that at present, even more so than in Great Britain, as both Flat and National Hunt it is dominated by a handful of mega-wealthy owners, and the smaller players (trainers and jockeys as well as owners) are being squeezed out.  In a country which always seems to have an admirably egalitarian ethos (mind you, when one lives in a monarchy one tends to get that impression, rightly or wrongly, about any republic) this situation is potentially harmful for Irish racing as regards the extent of its popularity across society.

However, ATR's coverage is so all-inclusive that it has pretty much eliminated this as a potential drawback.  On ATR, the sport comes across as the sport of the people, a sport which is all fun and zero 'stuffiness', zero pomposity, zero elitism.  The on-course presenters, headed by Gary O'Brien, are outstanding, and Matt Chapman does plenty to spread the joy whether he's in Great Britain or Ireland. That's terrific, and it's so good for the popularity and health of Irish racing.  It will be pretty much impossible for RUK to do as good a job in promoting the sport, however good a job its presenters and producers so.

Not only will the Irish racing be a less significant part of the output on RUK than it has been on ATR (as RUK has nearly all of the major racecourses in Great Britain) - it will be impossible for RUK to spread its reach across such a wide swathe of the Irish (and British) population.  ATR is available to everyone who subscribes to Sky.  RUK is only available to those who can afford and are prepared to pay another £299.76 (or 360 euros) per year on top of that.  If Irish racing had been behind a pay-wall from the outset, that would have been another matter.  However, on both sides of the Irish Sea we have become accustomed to seeing it without paying extra.  A socio-economic divide will be put in place to separate those who have the racing on TV in their homes and those who don't, and that will inevitably undo a lot of the good work which ATR has been done in persuading the population at large that Irish racing is not an elitist sport but is the sport of the people.

That's sad, and it is easy to understand why pretty much anyone who cares about the health of Irish racing is both saddened and angry about this.  And this isn't, by the way, a criticism of the RUK presenters or producers.  The channel has top-class people in both categories.  I don't think it would be possible to do a better job of covering the racing than the ATR team has been doing, but it's easy to believe that the RUK people will be able to do it as well.  However, the fact is that, however good a job they do, their work will only be seen by those who can afford to spend an extra 360 euros per year to have one extra TV channel.

Just before I finish this chapter, I must apologise for the fact that I returned from my 52 days in the wilderness not eating locusts and honey or whatever, but whingeing.  The aim wasn't to revel in the self-indulgence of self-pity, but merely to fulfill the aspiration of this blog, which is to be a personal and honest depiction of life here.  Actually, there's also a bit more to it than that: I was also, along with trying to make the blog personal and honest, trying to practise what I preach.  When I give people advice about how to live their lives (and I know that that sounds very conceited, but it does sometimes happen) my most important suggestion is that one should never to be afraid or ashamed to admit that one is a human being rather than a machine, that one has feelings and human frailties just like everyone else.

I advise never to be afraid to admit that you're struggling, that you're hurting, that you're afraid, that you can't do something.  For a machine that's a fault but for a human there's no failing in that: these are merely signs that you're human, that you're normal.  So it would be hypocritical of me, when I've been finding the going tough, to be afraid and/or ashamed to mention it.  And it's particularly topical at this time.  Subsequent to the dreadful news of the deaths of Richard Wollocott, Johnny Winter and Willie Codd, I thought that we'd all agreed that when one's finding things tough, the way forward is not to bottle up one's fears and worries, but to be open about them.  That's the best thing for the person involved, and it's the best thing for society in general because it can be a comfort to others to find that they're not the only ones.

REM spotted this years ago.  "When you're sure you've had enough of this life, well, hang on.  Don't let yourself go, 'cause everybody cries, and everybody hurts sometimes ... If you feel like you're alone - no, no, no: you're not alone ... Well, everybody hurts sometimes.  Everybody cries.  And everybody hurts sometimes ... So hold on, hold on, hold on ... Everybody hurts."  Those are wise words.  I don't want to make this chapter sound gloomy, because I'm not gloomy.  But, all in all, I thought that this blog wouldn't be fulfilling its purpose or its potential in several respects if I glossed over the fact that I had found January a very taxing month.  Mind you, I say that society seems to agree that openness is a good thing, but I might have to reassess that view as Emma has told me that I shouldn't have written it as it might be interpreted as a weakness, and that's not a great advertisement for a horse-trainer.  So maybe we have a bit farther to go than I was believing!

1 comment:

Dominic Garrett said...

Very profound John and so so true. Having been in some dark places myself by refusing to communicate with people that could have helped. I like many others bottled it all up and tried to pretend the shadows of life had not cast over me. The inevitable eventually surfaced and I broke. It's taken quite sometime to restore my self confidence and for a lot of my doubts and insecurities to be controlled and understood. On a lighter note I haven't heard that song by R.E.M. For sometime and just went on YouTube. I had to smile when the track that followed it was "It's the end of the World as we know it" life continues to make me smile and I see every day as an absolute gift. Great blog btw.

Dominic Garrett