Dennehy’s treatment smacks of pettiness from The Artists Formerly Known as BLE

The reasoning behind commentary team being dropped from this weekend’s Nationals doesn’t stack up

Action from the women’s 400m heats at the Athletics Ireland Irish Health Life National Championships at the  Morton Stadium in  Dublin on Friday night. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Action from the women’s 400m heats at the Athletics Ireland Irish Health Life National Championships at the Morton Stadium in Dublin on Friday night. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Hunter S Thompson always said it’s a sad day when you start stealing from yourself, and this quickly turned into one of those days, googling my own work from months and then years back and all the while thinking here we go again.

It’s a few weeks out from the Tokyo Olympics, on the eve of what will likely be one of the best and arguably most important National Track and Field Championships in their now 149 successive years of staging, and over two months since the second last contact of any sort I’ve had with The Artists Formerly Known as BLE.

Turns out I’m not entirely alone on that front: The Artists Formerly Known as BLE have a bit of a history and reputation of losing some face in Olympic year – think Seoul ’88, think Atlanta ’96 – and still that doesn’t easily explain their treatment this week of Cathal Dennehy, who is unquestionably one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to Irish athletics, more importantly knowing full well what the sport itself should be and is all about.

For the last seven years Dennehy has also been one of the voices of Irish athletics, firstly through his Jumping-The-Gun podcast with fellow Irish athletics aficionado Feidhlim Kelly, around that time too starting out as commentator for the live streaming of events by The Artists Formerly Known as BLE, plus most schools and university championships, which invariably last the best part of the entire day and the next one too.

I can still remember exactly where I was (waiting for my Jeep to pass the NCT) the first time I heard his “depths of hell” commentary, Dennehy capturing with lasting verve and spontaneity the moment Phil Healy came from the proverbial nowhere to snatch the 4x400m relay victory for UCC at the university championships at Santry. (Look it up on YouTube: it’s got 3.4 million views and counting.)

Not that Jumping-The-Gun or his race commentary always made for comfortable listening. As a matter of fact one of their early podcasts included what I thought was a gentle dig at me around the way I covered the positive EPO test of distance runner Martin Fagan as he battled with depression, so I called up Kelly the next day and we talked it through without one second of pettiness coming between us since.

The point here is that The Artists Formerly Known as BLE saw fit this week to unceremoniously and anonymously drop Dennehy from commentating at the live steaming of above said National Track and Field Championships, where there aren’t just titles at stake but also potential Olympic qualification: worse still and likewise without any prior warning they also dropped his co-commentary team of Ronan Duggan and Gerard O’Donnell, who share not just his knowledge but his passion too.

Feeling properly aggrieved, as well he should, Dennehy first put that word out on Twitter, his loss universally lamented, following up with some suitably eloquent thoughts and perceptions about what he thinks is really going on.

By way of brief summary, he begins: “It’s the bullshit I can’t stand. The decision, I could take. But the fluff, the dancing-around-the-obvious, going-in-a-different-direction, widening-the-pool crock of steaming effluent we were fed yesterday – that’s the bit that gets me.”

All The Artists Formerly Known as BLE had to say on the matter was they were “spreading the commentary around this year”, looking to expand the “pool of commentators”, only for Dennehy himself to hear they had been ringing around some of his colleagues in the sport looking for them to step in at the last minute (some contacted him to say as much). Clearly the nominal fee wasn’t the issue, so what could it be?

“We racked our brain, trying to work out what we’d done. Then it hit me.”

Was it the short news article he wrote for the Irish Examiner website about the stand-off between The Artists Formerly Known as BLE and the Belfast Irish Milers Club meeting regarding their European permit? A permit which was granted, then revoked, before being granted again, as any governing body of sport would have done, given there were Tokyo Olympic ranking points at stake?

He reckoned it’d be petty for someone at The Artists Formerly Known as BLE “to throw the toys out of the office pram over an article whose content was correct, which was not challenged via any letter to an editor, but it’d also (just about) be understandable.”

Back to my second last contact of any sort with The Artists Formerly Known as BLE, which actually was a letter from their chief executive to the sports editor of this newspaper, dated April 15th, the subject being: Concerns over Journalist Comments. The issue was an athletics column I’d written over two weeks previously, on March 27th, under the headline “Irish Olympians asking not what their country can do for them”.

My point was in the context of Olympic year, that 800 metres runner Nadia Power hadn’t yet received any funding from the governing body, in this case one which gets €1 million annual core funding from Sport Ireland, another €840,000 in high-performance funding, plus €256,000 to 13 top athletes under the carding scheme. His point was Power did get funding, in 2020, though ignoring the original reference to this in a column dated February 20th, where it was stated: “so far this year she’s received no federation funding”.

Was it mere coincidence at play? If not why wait until April 15th, the day Power got her first funding allocation so far this year, to raise this concern?

Stealing back on my own work over the years, there have been countless references to The Artists Formerly Known as BLE and matters around lack of funding or athletes falling out the “system”. And as Dennehy rightly pointed out, given the weekend that’s at stake, “it’s wrong to deflect attention from the athletes, who deserve so much more than they get, and who are underserved by a national governing body that keeps awareness of its national championships guarded like a state secret”.

That much is certainly true. There wasn’t a single press release ahead of this weekend’s championships.

It turns out the last contact of any sort I’ve had from The Artists Formerly Known as BLE was on May 20th, in the form of a brief statement confirming that “due to administrative concerns” the permit for that same Belfast Irish Milers Club meeting had been withdrawn. Exactly one week later the permit was restored, only this time there was no statement or indeed the need to go looking for it, not when this sort of pettiness is what ails Irish athletics again and again and again.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.