Saturday 24 June 2017

Hey bloodsuckers, keep your grubby paws off our sport

Eamonn Sweeney

Let's make 2012 the year we break the link between Irish sport and glory-hunting politicians.

Charlie Haughey's capering on the Champs-élysées after Stephen Roche won the Tour de France in 1987 may be the most famous example of this ignoble tradition but CJH was not alone in his determination to bask in the radiance reflected by our sports stars.

There they still are -- sitting in the best seats at Croke Park and the Aviva, hot-footing it out to the airport to greet returning medallists, firing off statements welcoming the latest victory or bemoaning the latest defeat (at the time of the Henry handball incident several Fianna Fáil ministers weighed in on the controversy when, perhaps, their minds should have been on more weighty matters).

These lads never see a sporting bandwagon they don't want to jump on.

Enough. Let's blow the final whistle on the nonsense of politicians plastering up to sportspeople. Why do they do it? Because sport is something we do well in this country, something which attracts our brightest and best. Politics, on the other hand, has begun to resemble a Village Idiot competition conducted on a national scale. They also do it to try and gain populist kudos. Remember when no broadcast praising the brilliance of Bertie was complete without a reference to his love of the Dubs and Man United, delivered in the same unctuously sycophantic tones with which British commentators used refer to the Queen Mother's grá for horses?

Politicians like to tell us that sporting victories prove what a great country this is. The implication is that those who lead such a great country must themselves be great. It's telling that politicians have used the phrase 'pull on the green jersey', when exhorting voters to forget the dire state of the country and rally behind the political establishment which landed us in the mess in the first place. Ministers think of sporting triumph as providing an opportunity to camouflage their incompetence under a veil of national togetherness. Let's face it, if Ireland won this year's European Championships, the euphoria would be such you'd find yourself thinking even Brendan Howlin was alright. For 20 seconds anyway.

In reality, many politicians go to matches for the same reasons they to go funerals. It's part of the job, a chance to be seen by plenty of constituents who might be codded into thinking they share a common interest with their TD. The main sporting organisations facilitate this. If a minister fancies showing the face in Croke Park, he rings up the GAA, looks for free tickets and gets them. It's just another little perk in a profession already rotten with them.

The GAA and everyone else should call time on this pack of inglorious freeloaders.

It's not just that sport has seen one disgraceful funding decision after another, as successive ministers treated it as a personal fiefdom offering unlimited opportunities to hand out goodies to their own constituents and supporters. It's not even that this has left us near the bottom of the heap in Europe when it comes to public sporting facilities. The real scandal is what Irish politicians have done to the society our sportspeople come from.

You can't separate sport from society as a whole. Think of the small communities whose lifeblood is being sucked away as young people leave the country in

search of jobs overseas. The most visible manifestation of this is the missing names on the GAA teamsheet. You have parents who'll be wondering if they can fund their kids' participation in sport over the coming year because they're victims of the failed austerity policies which mean the petrol money and the money for gear and equipment mightn't be there this time.

Attendances at games are down with the resultant negative effect on the finances of sporting bodies. Local clubs are struggling because yields from club lotteries are way down. Eleven hundred jobs went the other day but it seems like the only job Eamon Gilmore can get worked up about is Kevin Cardiff's. There are pay cuts everywhere but the only wages packet Enda Kenny seems to care about is Ciarán Conlon's.

Meanwhile, the government persists in paying out money to foreign bondholders, reimbursing super-rich speculators for a gamble they lost. This does mean there is one sporting entity which should be thankful to Kenny, Gilmore et al. The government's determination to protect the interests of foreign billionaires may enable Roman Abramovich to buy a couple of extra players in the transfer window. Our Taoiseach surely deserves the best possible seat at Stamford Bridge. At Croke Park or the Aviva, however, it should be a different story.

If we do win medals in London, let us be spared the sight of Leo Varadkar raising a self-satisfied arm in triumph alongside Katie Taylor or John Joe Nevin. Let the politicians quit hitching a free ride on the bandwagon. Ponder the qualities represented by our star athletes: industry, energy, unselfishness, talent, a commitment to excellence, and wonder why these qualities are so conspicuously lacking in Leinster House.

Keep your grubby paws off our games, lads. They're everything you're not.

Sunday Indo Sport

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