Sport divides and is like war without the killing
By definition, the bigger the crowds the more antisocial people are going to be among them. Numbers may be a factor in the relatively good behaviour of the fans of some sports, but perhaps it isn’t the only one.
To use rugby and Gaelic games again as examples, it could be argued that such is the violence and aggression on the pitch that supporters are sated and feel no need to join in. Stomping, gouging and fist fights are commonplace and, it would appear, this sort of behaviour is not merely accepted but expected by the fans. Do not rugby and Gaelic fans laughingly describe soccer as a game for softies?
Cricket is a sedate game, aside from the so-called sledging that often goes on between batsman and bowler as they heap the foulest of abuse upon one another to try to gain an advantage.
Golf’s adherents aren’t necessarily lifted above tribalism either by that apparently gentle sport, and nor am I referring only to the nationalist fervour of the home crowd whenever the Ryder Cup is staged in the US.
No sooner had Rory McIlroy won the US Open in 2011 than the internet and, somewhat more convolutedly, parts of the mainstream media were alive with people inquiring about his religious and political persuasions. Is he one of ours or one of theirs?
Sport does not heal divisions and “bring people together”. At most, it reflects the prevailing attitudes of the critical mass of the society from which its participants and supporters hail. Katie Taylor is the toast of the Republic for two main reasons: the critical mass of Irish society no longer defines itself in narrow, exclusive terms; and, more basically, no one much gave a damn who won a gold medal for Ireland as long as somebody did.
That the Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, has no qualms about describing himself as a Northern Irishman probably reflects how comfortable he is with the changed nature of Northern Ireland society since the Belfast Agreement was implemented. As are a growing number of northern Catholics despite the disruptive activities of tiny minorities within each of the two main communities.
Thanks to the Belfast Agreement Northern Irish people can choose to be British or Irish. Or both British and Irish, as Rory McIlroy has done. Sport played no part in changing social attitudes and political dispositions North or South. Rather, it has benefited from them to a similar extent as the rest of us.