Category: Archive

Full of cracks

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

He wasn’t claiming to be the best hammer thrower in the world, but merely arguing that as Ireland’s finest exponent of the art, he deserved far more help from the relevant authorities than he was getting.
McGrath wasn’t just griping about money, either. He also wanted to explain how difficult it is for the average Irish competitor to compete on the world stage while holding down a full-time job. As an example of the various obstacles placed in his way, he told the story of returning to Dublin on holidays only to discover there wasn’t a single location in the city where he would be allowed to practice during his stay. At Morton Stadium in Santry, the national athletics stadium, McGrath was informed by the caretaker that he couldn’t train because the field had to be preserved for then-tenants Shamrock Rovers.
That particular vignette explains why the most amazing thing about London winning the right to host the 2012 Olympics is that it’s somehow being construed as a hugely positive development for Irish sport. The thinking is that with so many athletes from all over the planet heading to England, a nice proportion of them will choose to locate their training camps in beautiful Ireland during the build-up. This is an optimistic take on the story and one that conveniently ignores the simple fact that we don’t have enough quality facilities on the island to allow our own Olympic aspirants to train properly.
In case everybody had forgotten, in the build-up to every other games of the past twenty years, our best and brightest do the majority of their preparatory work far from home. They have no choice because there isn’t enough of the equipment and technology in Ireland for them to do otherwise. Under those circumstances, isn’t it a mite foolish then to think that the Russians and the Chinese and the Americans are going to make do with a substandard set-up in Wexford or Wicklow, just because the scenery there is so fetching?
Picture the scene when the American swimmers arrive into Dublin Airport for their final training camp, and are politely informed that the National Aquatic Centre in Abbotstown won’t be available for a few days due to the leaking problem that isn’t really a leaking problem at all — or because a storm blew off the roof again? Imagine the delight of the Russian hammer throwers when they are told to restrict their training to the weight-rooms because there isn’t a single field in metropolitan Dublin that is insured for them to throw the steel balls in.
Of course, the political spin-doctors will argue that much will change in the next seven years and by then, Ireland of the welcomes will be a country over-run with world-class sporting venues. That would be fantastic if it were to prove true but come on, will there even be a second half-decent stadium in Dublin by that stage? Nobody’s betting any serious money on the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road going according to plan, are they?
The most amazing thing of all is that one or two well-meaning, if misguided, individuals have gone a little farther than simply anticipating a positive knock-on from the London games taking place so close to home. Step forward Fine Gael’s finest, the legendary Gay Mitchell, TD and MEP.
“I have put up with a lot of slagging over this through the years,” said Mitchell in the Irish Independent last week, “but I still believe if we looked seriously at this, we could host an Irish Olympics. Look at what we have done in the last few years, the Tour de France, the Special Olympics. Spain, a far poorer country than ours, has gone for the Olympics twice in the last 12 years. Surely it’s about time we had some sort of Olympic vision for our capital city.”
There is enough evidence in that single quote to have Mitchell taken away by the men in the white coats, or at the very least impeached by his constituents.
Beyond the third-world sporting infrastructure, what about the quality of the rest of the infrastructure? What about the roads and the public transportation system? Dublin, as the saying goes, is going to be a fine place to live in when it’s finished. Which, at the current pace of construction, will be sometime near the end of the present century.
Having just heard that New York and Paris failed in their bid to host the Olympics, a high-ranking and seriously-regarded politician is refloating the notion Dublin needs to get in on the act. Without mentioning the availability of places like Shea Stadium, Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, and Giants Stadium, Mitchell needs to remember that almost every suburban high school within 30 miles of Manhattan has sporting facilities like running tracks and swimming pools that are still castles in the air for most prosperous towns in Ireland. Yet, he still imagines that with a bit of spit and polish, his beloved home town could compete at this level.
There is pride in one’s country and then there’s myopia. And just to prove that the blindness is not all on one side of the political aisle, we have the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, announcing that he would like to pursue a career in sports administration when his days in the Dail are done. The man who once boldly envisaged Champions’ League finals at Stadium Ireland in Abbotstown but who has failed to get even a fully-functioning 50-meter pool working at the venue imagines himself working in sports administration.
Sounds like the perfect person to head up Gay Mitchell’s Dublin Olympics committee.

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