Taylor rises above PR guff to show mark of Olympic champion

Mon, Dec 24, 2012, 00:00

TIPPING POINT:It’s been awards season, that most wonderful time of the year, when the feats of Ireland’s great sportspeople are toasted and praised – at the end of which Katie Taylor picks up the overall gong for 2012. By the end, nobody was even trying to generate suspense.

Opening the envelope was like looking east in the morning – a prelude to the inevitable dawn.

If any name but Taylor’s was announced, shock levels would have been Mayan. Which is as it should be – if there’s one thing everyone can agree upon, it is that she is brilliant.

There was certainly no change in that vibe when the Olympic champion collected The Irish Times/Sports Council Sportswoman of the Year Award a few days ago. A room jammed with accomplished, bright and hugely talented sportspeople all sang from the same hymn sheet. The standing ovation was no orchestration. The only thing more spontaneous was the leap on to the stage by political suits elbowing to get as close as possible to Taylor in front of the cameras.

What was interesting, though, was a little Sports Council video played before the scrum began. A slick montage of Taylor, training and sparring, worked well as a brief glimpse into the sweaty day-to-day reality of getting that good at such a ferociously unforgiving discipline.

And then, at the end, there were arty shots of her peering into the distance and/or camera with three slogans flashing up in front of her: Some do it for the fame, declared the first; Some do it for the money; followed by, But some do it for us.

Motivation

It was all very snappy, PR slick and pretty much rubbish.

Taylor does what she does for many reasons. Because she loves boxing, wants to be as good as she can be at it, feels women’s boxing deserves better than it has got over the years, any number of motivations. But boil it down and she does it for herself.

No one could do what she does otherwise. In fact, no sportsperson of any calibre can endure the sacrifices needed to be successful unless they reduce motivation to its most basic. And worrying about “us” is simply not on, especially when “us” were profoundly indifferent to those years of slog with her father, Pete, in a dingy gym in Bray that as facilities go didn’t even merit a small “f”.

But Taylor played ball, smiled and allowed Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Co their chummy shots with the sporting great – the same Enda who just seven months earlier visited the same spartan gym in Bray and told Peter Taylor to submit yet another grant application and it would be looked after; the sort of mindset that has helped develop a reputation for sports funding allocation as little more than a roving benefit which travels the highways and byways in co-relation to the transient location of the Minister for Sport’s constituency.

Last week the Taoiseach stood up, punched his hand a couple of times with that boom-boom shtick and delivered a spiel about how Taylor and the other monthly award winners represented everything great about this country. They were examples, role models, leaders, inspirations, yadda, yadda, yadda. And he did it without a trace of irony. The idea that this country’s political leadership might even aspire to such qualities is so off the radar as to be all but redundant.

There was nothing particularly original in it either. There’s been a lot of stuff written and said during the awards season about our top sportspeople inspiring a nation and packing up our troubles for a little bit – a lot! All of which can get to sound a bit trite with repetition.

Investing so much in sporting achievement is a luxury that should be affordable. And no Olympic medal is going to make someone on their financial uppers feel miraculously uplifted. But there remains an essential truth at the kernel of it, despite the overuse.

Cynicism

Sport’s innate artificiality – that vital presumption of a level playing field, where talent and determination count for more than worldly cynicism and opportunism – allows even the most desperate to indulge in an illusion of fair play for a little while.

The most bilious sceptic can’t look at Taylor accepting an award for excellence and quibble about it. They may even claim a certain propriety, bluster about the sports council grant – “our money, like” – and feel a little better about themselves. It’ll be crap, but if it makes them happy for a while, why not.

Certainly anyone who thinks Taylor owes “us” because of a grant has chippier problems with the world than sport. But even for the equable, it can be a big, bad world out there. That’s why Taylor’s personal decency, allied to a supreme sporting talent, makes her so popular. She wins fair and carries it off with class.

Last week that class meant she played along with the doing-it-for-us bit, just as every other athlete in the room played along. Because it was appropriate in the circumstances and it’s a relatively harmless lie. Moreover, it hardly makes sense to pee into the Sports Council tent when they’re paying for the gig.

But when Taylor trained last Christmas Day, it was for personal reasons, not some common good. Behind all the PR bull, everyone realises that only too well.

Because as we’ve found to our cost, it’s often those most vocally proclaiming they do it for “us” who are really pretending.

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