Category: Archive

The bitter fruit of neglect

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

First, there were reporters who had ridiculously given Ireland an outside chance beforehand expressing faux surprise when the bid subsequently didn’t make the final four. Then, there was the ludicrous suggestion that a terrible, unjust thing had been done by those dastardly officials in bad, mean UEFA. It was all hilarious stuff, and it was capped nicely by a comment from Simon Lyons, a man who can now put on his resume that he was marketing director of one of the most shameful episodes in the country’s recent sporting history.
“The six guys from UEFA met with [Toaiseach] Bertie Ahern and they were very impressed by his love of football,” Lyons said in a statement that proved the taoiseach is well able to fool some of the people all of the time. “They were actually a bit amused that he seemed to know more about football than some of them. I think that rang through, and I know that nobody questioned his enthusiasm.”
Since nobody in UEFA questioned the taoiseach’s enthusiasm, how then do the chancers behind this escapade explain away the abject failure? More to the point, did anybody involved in any of this question Ahern’s sincerity? Apart altogether from the fact he presides over a country so short of money for more pressing issues that a newborn baby gets turned away from a shut-down maternity ward in tragic circumstances, there is the grand lie that is his love of sport. If he loved the game like his handlers and the sickening tabloid media say he does, he would have told the FAI early on in this whole charade to catch themselves on and try a little harder not to be the butt of so many jokes.
Notwithstanding the knowledge that all successful politicians seem to be born without an embarrassment gene, it strikes us that a less egomaniacal leader would also have seen the folly of lending his name to this venture. Especially at a time when his country has absolutely no coherent policy toward the development of sport or the construction of a sporting infrastructure. Too busy dreaming of the day when he might get to cut the ribbon on a national stadium that is the least of our sporting needs, Ahern couldn’t resist the opportunity to hop on board this bandwagon and see would it help him convince an increasingly skeptical public about the viability of the Bertie Bowl.
As a country, Ireland have punched above its weight in international sport for decades. Between Ronnie Delaney in Melbourne in 1956 and Sonia O’Sullivan in Sydney two years ago, we’ve always turned out individuals capable of greatness on the world stage. When they triumph, we bask in their achievements, pat ourselves on the back and never ask enough tough questions about how much we actually did to help them along the way. This is why any advances made are piecemeal. A GAA club embarks on a fundraising drive here, a soccer team runs a prize drawing there, and facilities get built. Every now and again we marvel at some clubhouse or complex but it’s only when we travel that we realize a lot of suburban high schools in America are better equipped than some of our cities.
In their defense, the taoiseach, the minister for sport, and their spin doctors will claim that no government in history has spent more money on sports than the last two administrations. This is true. It is also true that no government has ever had so much money to spend. Moreover, the improvement in the financing of sport on their watch doesn’t justify squandering sums that could utterly transform sport’s place in Irish society on a stadium that is a castle in the air and a bid to host the European championships that was doomed from way back.
Anybody who has ever been involved in running a team or a club at any level in Ireland can testify that there is never enough cash to go around. Imagine for a moment if all those unsung heroes who tirelessly flog lotto tickets and run raffles could devote that time to promoting their sports rather than just trying to fund their very existence. Were even a 10th of the sum earmarked for Stadium Ireland spent on building new pitches, improving existing facilities and easing the administrative burden on amateur officials, the knock-on effect would be far more positive than seeing us making idiots of ourselves on the European stage like we did last week.
Every garda will tell you that boredom is the first excuse of every teenage miscreant. With somewhere to go and something to do, a proportion of nascent criminals would inevitably take another more positive route in their lives. How much money does that save in the long run? More important, how many kids would ever have benefited in any way from a few Euro 2008 matches being held in Dublin? Next time they get presented with a pie-in-the-sky scheme of this nature, the politicians should remember that increased access to enjoyable ways of working up a sweat encourages people to live healthier lives, and consequently avoid spending time in underfunded hospitals.
Roy Keane might be the finest soccer player this country has produced but it’s for something else entirely he deserves our credit today. When Ahern turned up at Dublin Airport to see off the Irish team heading for Saipan on the day of the general election last May, Keane didn’t get out of his seat when the taoiseach came toward him with a posse of photographers in tow. Recognizing naked political opportunism when he saw it, Keane smiled a wan smile as Ahern stooped gormlessly over him for the cameras. Some people would call that showing a lack of respect for the leader of the country. We’d call it giving him about as much as he deserves.

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