Bards of Sports History as Vital as Ever for Us All
Byline: Shane McGrath
RTE have received a few slaps for celebrating 50 years of existence. There were a number of shows in the first week of the new year marking the fact that New Year's Eve just gone was the 50th anniversary of the station's first broadcast, and if sniffing about the quality of the celebrations was justified in some cases, carping about the celebrations themselves was not.
The national broadcaster's importance is framed best not by recalling the defining influence it had in its first half-century of life, but by recognising the transformative effect it continues to have on this country. One area of RTE's influence that was only lightly touched on was sport, but the station's relationship with sport rivals its coverage of political life for effect on the nation.
RTE effectively decided the last presidential election; it did something similar in 1990. The station has ended, boosted, illuminated and coddled political careers. Its role has grown, with that of all media organs, in the aftermath of the devastation of recent years.
Sport can look feeble or even indulgent when set alongside sober men in shiny suits or bluffers in cheap ones talking about poor, broken old Ireland. Sport runs through people's lives, though, with the untiring certainty of a vein through marble. Irish self-congratulation about being terrific supporters sometimes sounds hollow -- the difference between being a fan and a supporter is an important one, after all -- but if it doesn't sound too immodest a claim to make in this section of the newspaper, the extent and the traditional and consistent high quality of Irish sports journalism attests to a constant, demanding and informed audience.
Because of the immediacy of TV, RTE have been prominent in attempts to service that demand. Sometimes they stumble, and the balance between informed, entertaining broadcasting and noisy, self-serving opinion at times threatens to capsize their analysis in the major field sports.
The emergence of TV3 and Newstalk as quality rivals of Gaelic games and rugby coverage provides a contrast that doesn't always flatter the main station, either, while the tendency to view sport as light relief, like a quirky commercial break, in some serious radio and TV broadcasts should be resisted and countered. …