For those who love sport, its loss is one of the great dislocations of this crisis. For those who don’t love sport, or who perhaps love it less, one of the great mysteries of this crisis is that there is still so much sport on the news.
Until the restart of the Bundesliga last weekend, there had been almost no sport of merit from anywhere in the world recently (with apologies to fans of Belarusian soccer and Ukrainian table tennis). And yet, daily, there are still sports bulletins, filled with cancellations and postponements, and then revisits to great sports stories from the past.
These forays into the folk memory are particularly resonant in a time when our way of life is under threat. The rituals of sport are "part of the fundamental fabric of life in Ireland", as Miriam Haughton, a lecturer in drama at NUI Galway, noted in a recent article for RTÉ. This status is recognised by the prominence given to sport in the news. But, as Haughton asked, is the role of the arts so different from that of sport? Occasional events break through to mainstream broadcast news coverage. But the making of most art in Ireland remains marginal to what is perceived as "the news".
On RTÉ’s Six One news from Monday to Thursday last week, there were reports on golf clubs reopening, British football, sailing, funding for sports organisations, the cancellation of the Dublin marathon, a Kerry teenager winning a US sports scholarship, horse racing, and the impact of the pandemic on hurley-making.
On the arts, there was a report on the general impact of the pandemic, and one on a children’s talent show being judged by nursing home residents.
This marginality is not reflective of public interest. Research commissioned by the National Campaign for the Arts in 2014 found that 63 per cent of those surveyed believed arts amenities were “as important as sports amenities”. More people participate in sport, but more than a third of people participate in the arts regularly or occasionally. The problem is not an excess of sport so much as a relative absence of the arts. There is a simple way to fix this: a daily arts bulletin on the news.