How sports news is like Debbie McGee…

by Pseud O'Nym

For those of you who don’t know who Debbie McGee is, she’s most famously known for being the assistant to the magician Paul Daniels whom he later married. (Or maybe she isn’t that famous if I have to tell you who she is!) And for those of you who do know who she is, you’re now thinking of the infamous clip on the Mrs. Merton show. Which you can find here.

My last blog – which was a few weeks ago – ended with the somewhat rash observation that in this one, I’d be concerning myself with the fact that whilst sports news might be an oxymoron, it least offered a simple and understandable alternative to actual news. I write rashly because in the strict dictionary definition of oxymoron sports news isn’t one. It might not be news as I see it, but if it is information concerning sports that wasn’t widely known to people who care about these things, is, then it qualifies as news. So I write instead that sports news is like Debbie McGee. Allow me to explain.

As every magician knows, if the audience is paying too close attention to them, then there is every chance that they will spot the sleight of hand or other chicanery they are is engaged in. (For the purposes of this argument all magicians are therefore less than handsome men, and it thereby follows that their assistants are attractive younger females wearing as little as the audience will permit). The purpose of the magician’s assistant is to distract the audiences’ gaze away from the magician and to focus instead on something more appealing. In essence the audience looks the other way, so that the trick can be successfully executed. In much the same way sports news acts as a distraction from actual news. Let me give you an example.

Consider the many problems that face the world today. There’s certainly enough to choose from. From arms control to world hunger and everything in between, the problems facing humanity are simple; the solutions to them are anything but. (Although changing its name is one way to make the threat seem less threatening. The most obvious example being when exactly did global warming become climate change? Several large hats off to whatever genius thought of that one!) And if you spent any amount of time dwelling on all these in a very short space of time you’d go mad. At any rate, you wouldn’t be a funster! Let us take what is on the face of it, an easy one.

ISIS as everyone – except for mental pigmies – would agree is a dangerous slide backwards into religious intolerance and barbarity. But how did ISIS come to be? It is an easy question but one that doesn’t lend itself to easy answers. It all depends on how far back you wish to go. One could argue with some justification that ISIS filled the power vacuum that was left after the American withdrawal from Iraq. Anyone with a knowledge of that whole sorry misadventure could counter that with the argument that the power vacuum only existed because the Americans had not only disbanded the Sunni dominated military but had also installed a weak and ineffective leader. Going further back one could also point to the American support of Saddam Hussein provided them with a regional strong man who was totally dependent on them for support. Mind you Iraqi oil revenues didn’t hurt him either and only a cynic would draw a correlation between Iraqi oil and American support. Nor would one think of the one known diplomatic realpolitik phrase “He might be a bastard but at least he’s our bastard!”

Going even further back, one could even point out that the map of the modern Middle East, which as we know it was drawn up after the First World War according the Sykes – Picot treaty. A treaty that, like so many peace treaties before and since, worked well for those not directly affected by its provisions. If anything was guaranteed to foster generational hatred and tribal rivalries for decades to come then this was it. ISIS is but one as an example of how complicated things can be when you start to look at them with any degree of critical analysis. No doubt my own somewhat sketchy overview of events that lead us to ISIS might well be criticized, but that is precisely my point. Complicated things ARE complicated and defy soundbite understanding.

So it is no wonder that sports news provides an easily understandable alternative to actual news. If you follow a football team you know the rules that both sides will play by. You also know that a football match normally lasts for ninety minutes and at the end of it your team has either won, drawn or lost. And you will also know that at the end of the season their place in the league is a certainty, and not open to interpretation.

News offers no such rules based easy to follow narratives. One is always in the middle of news. The beginning of any news event depends on your perspective and your own bias. There is no clearly defined black and white with news, although there are considerably more than fifty shades of grey. Sports therefore act as a magician’s assistant, it distracts one from more important concerns and in so doing it effectively inures people to the more deserving of their attention than sport. Don’t get me wrong. I loved sport, was in my schools football, rugby and cricket teams. But soon after leaving school, I found I’d no enthusiasm for being a spectator of sports. There were far more interesting things worthy of my attention. But not if there’s a scantily clad attractive woman instead!