Darren and drink: did he go too far?


Darren Clarke celebrated his British Open win by going for a few drinks, but was it appropriate? BRIAN O’CONNELLand CONOR POPEhash it out by e-mail

BRIAN O’CONNELLI was on the edge of my couch rooting for Darren Clarke last Sunday and was delighted he had finally got the majors monkey off his back. I was reluctant to be drawn into this debate after his win. No one likes a hero-knocker. Yet within 60 seconds of beginning his acceptance speech last Sunday, Clarke introduced a topic that has since factored in almost every media statement on his win: alcohol.

How Clarke engages with alcohol in his private life is his business. The issue I have is that he introduces alcohol into a public forum. Clarke’s insensitivity when it comes to the alcohol problems of Ireland and Britain troubles me, as does his apparent lack of awareness that thousands of children look up to him as a role model and that the media laps up his drinking.

It bothered me in 2006 when he downed a pint of Guinness in one after the Ryder Cup victory, and the subsequent image made many front pages. The insinuation was this is what you do when you are celebrating in Ireland: you drink in an abnormal way. I had a similar unease last Monday morning when Clarke arrived at his press conference after a long session, apparently slurring his words and detailing the quantity of alcohol he had drunk.

Recently, Brian O’Driscoll described alcohol advertising as a non-runner and ruled out working for Red Bull because of that product’s association with alcohol. O’Driscoll gets the social context. Clarke doesn’t.

CONOR POPENot even Jesus had a problem with people celebrating with a few drinks, and for thousands of years before the famous feast at Cana, alcohol had been inextricably linked with joyous occasions.

Clarke won the British Open, an enormous achievement for any golfer. So he went out with his mates, popped a few champagne corks, went drinking and had fun. To suggest his celebration should not have so publicly involved alcohol in case it set a bad example for the rest of us – or, heaven forbid, our children – is a ludicrous and po-faced position worthy of John Calvin at his grumpiest.

Such a puritanical stance can quickly drain the joy out of happy events. Last year the Canadian women’s hockey team won gold at the Winter Olympics. After the game, the champions returned to the ice, drank champagne, smoked cigars and partied in a near-empty arena.

For 30 whole minutes.

Cue uproar. The International Olympic Committee – an organisation that is itself beyond reproach, obviously – laid into the team. The Canadian hockey authorities apologised, and a momentous sporting achievement was tarnished.

Alcohol does great harm, to individuals and to society. Only a fool would suggest otherwise. But Clarke’s knees-up was good-natured and should not be linked to the causes of our nation’s alcoholic misfortunes.

BRIAN O’CONNELLI’m not suggesting someone shouldn’t celebrate a win in whatever way they wish; I am suggesting we have a responsibility to acknowledge that there are related or underlying social issues.

The media usually deals with the reporting of suicide responsibly, because our society has a problem with suicide. If there is no link between society’s alcohol problems and the glorifying of excess drinking in the media, then why hold back on suicide reporting? We have a responsibility to question excessive drinking, particularly in a sporting context. Some of the reporting of Clarke’s win has been irresponsible. The underlying message is that children’s excessive drinking is bad but adults’ excessive is beneficial. No media hypocrisy there.

I don’t think anyone would have denied Clarke some champagne popping, but 24 hours after the win he was pictured in his local, still on the lash, sitting on his own and looking somewhat depressingly at a pint of Guinness.

The celebration for me had crossed a line by this point. It’s beginning to feel like Arthur’s Day every day around here. And don’t even get me started on Obama and the queen’s visits.

CONOR POPESo you’re drawing a parallel between the way the media has reported Clarke’s celebrations and the way it reports suicide. Because that’s not wildly over-the-top, or emotive. Such a knee-jerk response shows how easy it is for an evangelical, and I’m sure you won’t mind being described thus, to lose their sense of perspective.

Yes, Clarke went on an all-night session and appeared at press conferences the next morning while seemingly under the influence. So what? Is he in charge of the country? No. He just plays golf.

There’s a touch of the Maud Flanders “Won’t someone think of the children!” about your response. I struggle with the sportsman-as-role-model-to-our-children thing, particularly when that sportsman is a fortysomething golfer with a line in unfortunate jumpers. Clarke’s responsibility is not to serve as a role model to my children and to show them the right and wrong way to behave. That responsibility rests with me. And if I find myself relying on him, I will have failed, to some degree, as a parent.

If Clarke has any responsibility to us, it is to play golf and not cheat. End of story. He has done nothing illegal or irresponsible. He did not drive home after his night out. He did not urge 15-year-olds to join him in the pub.

BRIAN O’CONNELLSorry for the delay in replying. I was attending my weekly meeting of the Sober Again Christians Church. Now, where were we? The fortysomething golfer with questionable dress sense is also a multimillionaire sports star who benefits financially from being in the public eye. Being a public figure carries a certain responsibility.

You’re right that promoting a responsible engagement with alcohol among children is the duty of parents. But as parents we also have a duty to question the manner in which drinking to excess is accepted and promoted in society.

I had a feeling you’d trot out the puritanical/ evangelical line. I think it’s one of the reasons people feel unwilling to critique alcohol issues in Ireland. They are seen as party poopers or zealots. I am not anti-alcohol. I am anti-abuse of alcohol and our lack of questioning of dysfunctional drinking in this country.

CONOR POPEWe agree on the fundamental issue: Ireland has had a drinking problem for generations. But the problem is not of Clarke’s making, and his celebrations, widely reported as they have been, will not make that problem any worse. Not every photo-op featuring a pint of Diageo will have pioneers scurrying into their local offie in search of Buckfast. Relax. Allow the man his celebrations, don’t make a big deal of it and move on. Everyone else has.

BRIAN O’CONNELLIreland has both a drinking problem and a problem facing up to and questioning its drinking patterns. The reporting of Clarke’s win brings that into sharp focus for me but not for you. That doesn’t make you a free-loving, feckless decadent or me an evangelical puritan. I’d just like to change our national dialogue around alcohol. Tell you what: I’ll shout you a fizzy pop next time you’re down my way and we can continue the debate. I know some great bars.

CONOR POPEA debate is needed, but maybe your timing was a little off. Things are pretty grim in Ireland right now: Clarke’s win was a rare moment of good cheer, and it depresses me to see it used as a springboard for a lecture on the perils of alcohol. Thanks for the offer, but I never drink fizzy pop. It’s bad for me.