Saturday, October 29, 2005

Trophy Disgraced by Final Performance

Usually on WinnersPodium we like to report on how awards and trophies provide inspirational and virtuous reward and recognition for good performance. Run properly, an awards scheme or competition can benefit everyone - the participants, the organisers, the sponsors and the viewing audience. But it can go wrong, and we cite yesterday's Coca-Cola International Rules Series finale in Melbourne, Australia, as one such example. The International Rules Series is a 'compromise rules' competition played between Ireland's gaelic football players and Australia's 'Aussie rules' footballers. The games, played annually, obey a mixture of rules from the two codes. Building on the cultural links between Ireland and Australia, and the similarities between the two national sports, the International Rules Series is a showcase for both codes and in the past has provided an entertaining spectacle for fans in both countries. The event has attracted a number of high profile sponsors, most notably the headline sponsor Coca-Cola. However, the 2005 Coca-Cola International Series will now be remembered only for the brutal violence that marred all four quarters of the second, and final, test in Melbourne yesterday. Described by seasoned commentators as the worst thuggery they have ever witnessed on a sports field, the televised event descended into disgrace as the professional Australian players took every opportunity to intimidate and assault the amateur Irish players. What made this all the more shocking is that the violence was unrelated to the score in the game - Australia went into the second test with a seemingly unassailable lead of 36 points, and by half-time in the game had deservedly extended this lead by a further 13 points. The worst of the apparently orchestrated violence actually occured in the third quarter, when the outcome of the game had already been decided. So, sponsors such as Coca-Cola must have winced at every bad challenge and assault as they were replayed on television to the drinks company's core family audience market. To cap it all, the International Rules Series has a new trophy for the winners, the Cormac McAnallen Trophy. This silver trophy cup was named after the late captain of the County Tyrone GAA football team, who died in 2004 at the tragically young age of 24. To see the trophy named after this much loved and widely respected amateur player, presented to the Australian players following their disgraceful off-the-ball antics, must have sickened everyone who believes in fair play in sport. It is currently being reported that the International Rules Series may be suspended next year, pending a review of its organisation. The GAA and the AFL must hope that sponsors such as Coca-Cola, along with the relevant broadcasters, will continue to support the event following the Melbourne fiasco.