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To play or not to play – that is no question

MOHAMMAD AMIR arrived in England this week to work with his legal team ahead of charges relating to a spot fixing scandal. Just a few months into a five-year ban the 19-year-old Pakistani found time to line out for village side Addington 1743. Amir took four wickets in seven overs, conceding just nine runs. He also hit 60 with the bat.

The thing is that the teenager isn’t allowed to play any cricket, village team or not and his ban may now be increased for violating the terms of his suspension.


The International Cricket Council (ICC) spokesman, Ireland’s James Fitzgerald confirmed a probe was under way. Fitzgerald will understand better than most what it is like to get your game. The sometime IRB rugby referee found himself in Canada at a cricket World Cup qualifier involving Ireland some years ago. Short of players for a variety of reasons, Fitzgerald, who was there as a journalist, was asked by the Irish management to step in and field for them. No, he didn’t dream it all up. Fitzgerald at least understands that it’s sometimes hard to turn down the offer of a game. Doubtless the ICC won’t see Amir’s case that kindly.

Kilbane’s triumph of presence as striking as Keane’s goal run

ROBBIE KEANE’S passion for playing with his country was justly rewarded despite the small quibble that if you can’t get passionate about playing for Ireland then where is your head. Keane’s 51 goals justly puts him in an historic position but in the rush to fete the striker there is a tendency to overlook the equally spectacular achievement of Kevin Kilbane.

Kilbane played his 66th consecutive competitive international game in a run stretching back to 1997 and only England’s Billy Wright has achieved a longer unbroken streak in competitive international football when he reached 70 consecutive appearances for England in May 1959.

Keane’s scoring record, again not to be quibbled with, may not stand up to the American way of measuring success, which is by percentages and averages. In other words the Americans include efficiency into their statistics when measuring, say, hitters in baseball.

Keane’s rate of 51 goals in 108 international matches is fractionally less than a goal every two games, which is excellent and compares very favourably to Celtic and Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, who scored 30 goals for Scotland in 102 international games.

But if we scroll down the list of worthy goal poachers who billowed the cobweb more often than not, the strike rate of England’s Nat Lofthouse, who scored just 30 goals in a fraction of the matches that it took Keane, remains amazing. Lofthouse found the onion sack 30 times in just 33 games, which would put his strike rate at just short of a goal every time he lined out for England. Several great strikers are stuck on 30 goals in their careers including Denis Law, Alan Shearer and Tom Finney.

Still, Kilbane’s triumph of presence and diligence, given the capacity for injury, bad form, falling out with the manager, illness and appetite to play over the 14 years or so is laudable. Few would have thought the lad from Preston, Sunderland, Everton, Wigan, Hull City and Huddersfield would still be here after his debut match against Iceland, when Mick McCarthy substituted him at half-time and he didn’t play again for six months.

Carthy struggles to collect hospital pass

YOU’D HAVE to wonder why Brian Carthy – the meat in the sandwich of the current catfight between RTÉ and a murder of managers – has been commissioned by RTÉ to cover the Leinster senior hurling semi-final between Kilkenny and Wexford today and indeed why he appeared at last week’s football game between Cork and Waterford.

True Gaels will know that Cork manager Conor Counihan and Kilkenny manager Brian Cody are listed as those who favour the fatwa against RTÉ and have declined to speak to the national broadcaster following what they saw as bad treatment of the senior commentator when he was overlooked for the top-dog slot.

Perish the thought that after today’s match in Wexford Park, Cody will refuse to speak to RTÉ (aka Carthy) because he is supporting a push for Carthy to get the now-retired Mícheál O Muircheartaigh’s old job at the microphone.

Is it not shocking how RTÉ is trying to cajole the legendary Kilkenny coach to break his own vow of silence?

What may have started out as a misplaced act of kindness from a few intercounty managers has turned into something of a hospital pass for the veteran RTÉ man.

Money blurs the vision of big sport

SEPP BLATTER’S public humiliation of Ireland has done little for the FAI’s pursuit of a backbone. When it comes to international issues they take a kicking one year then vote for the chap that did it the next – a strange variant of Stockholm Syndrome.

Doubtlessly, all for the good of football long term but not so uplifting for national pride. You have to question those people that expose the Irish sporting reputation to Blatter’s arrogance then throw the country’s vote at his presidential feet.

These have been weeks where the leaders in sport have not so much lost their way as shown how they think. Blatter’s clunky manoeuvres to have himself re-elected before the “Fifa’s Got Talent” panel of judges, Henry Kissinger, Placido Domingo and Johan Cruyff were pulled out of the hat is the classic illusion.

The scantily-clad female assistant always distracts from the magician’s hands.

Blatter’s choice of Kissinger, a man who has both won the Noble Peace prize and been condemned for his involvement in the bombing of Cambodia and regime change in Latin America, most notably the CIA’s hand in the coup which toppled the elected Chilean leader Salvador Allende and brought General Pinochet to power, seems typically thoughtless. In his gestural politics and attempt to pacify the sponsors Blatter found it impossible to even pull out a regular white rabbit.

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people,” Kissinger once famously uttered.

Blatter’s breasts and jowls, you feel, would heave merrily at that remark.

Blatter has done nothing illegal. His immunity from things that seems noble, however, is not unique to him and follows in the old tradition that big sport rarely does the right thing if there is a choice between power/money or ethical considerations.

Rugby and cricket among South African bigotry; Zimbabwe, cricket and Mugabe’s vote rigging; the absurd Fifa election and most recently the FIA World Motor Sport Council’s confused ethics over the Bahrain Grand Prix following the ruling monarchy’s recent crushing of its people in the Arab Spring.

As most politicians insist sport is devoid of politics, the Grand Prix, originally rescheduled for October 30th as the body count was rising, and then cancelled, promised to show the world Bahrain was a wonderfully stable place to do business – if only the police and army were left alone to do their work.

That a “Day of Rage” from dissidents following 32 deaths and the appearance of 42 doctors and nurses before a Bahrain military court amid allegations of torture, was also on the agenda for October seemed not to overly burden the burghers of vroom, vroom until the teams stood firm.

The top officials and FIA decision-makers aside, Bernie Ecclestone at least had the feeling in his water to swiftly sense the mood. Sticking to his guns he followed his own declaration that F1 “doesn’t do sport or religion”. A fine sentiment but the FIA’s initial instincts seemed woefully misplaced until their own dose of revolution.

F1 does what it does best. It does dollars. Like Fifa and the FAI and the IRFU during the apartheid years and the Irish cricket team that travelled to Zimbabwe, they look after their own narrow interests first.

That exclusive attitude can take sport to different places.

It can end in disaster – as it may have in Bahrain – or with the clown prince of football giggling from a dais at Ireland’s naive request to be the 33rd team in a World Cup.

Risks accentuate the bravery and tragic clarity of choice

DEREK BRIEN is the third. This year, he’s the third. The 36-year-old died at the mystically named Gorse Lea. They often do die somewhere beautifully named. Snaefell Mountain, Rhencullen, Stonebreakers Hut. Ballaugh Bridge. Greeba Castle. Lambfell Cottage. Peaceful names, remote places, sometimes on a majestic sweep of mountain with nothing but the stone walls and greenery. Laurel Bank. Gob-o-Geay. Glentramman.

Brien’s tragedy is piled high on the list of names of those who have perished at the Isle of Man TT and again brings us to one of the most defiant pieces of rock on the planet. Like Everest the island accepts the riders every year and every year it takes a few. The unofficial list now is 234 deaths, not including officials or spectators. Everest’s appetite is just short of that and lists vary but one estimate stops at 216 deaths with around 150 bodies still on the mountain.

Within a month Brien’s crash brings together two Irish people that died for the sports that thrilled them. On May 21st John Delaney failed to come down the mountain, the added anguish to his family being that his body remains in the Everest ice near the summit. Perhaps there is a strange comfort in that, and also for the family of Brien. What consumed both was more than a dalliance with the intrinsic appeal of danger but a relationship, familiar and natural, one that gave enormous pleasure.

The Isle of Man TT is as stunning a spectacle as you will ever see. It is a place where mortality is force fed, where the riders appear to go too fast into bends but somehow come out the far side, where they rear out of the seat to use their bodies as air brakes, smash into birds at 180mph, hit sticks on the road, find slippery bits of white line on hairpin bends. It is the community as much as the sports themselves that are the attraction.

Extreme bike racing and mountaineering are lifestyles and asking people to stop contributing to the body count is to ask them to change their lives because of our own buttoned-up sensibilities and infatuation with living safe and long. It is to say that doing one thing with a life is better than another. In that debate the bravery and the tragic clarity of choice of O’Brien and Delaney seems a creditable one to take.