Friday 24 March 2017

Rugby's drawn-out Olympic return leaves Irish cold

Sean Diffley

Rugby, banned from the Olympics after an unmerciful row in Paris in 1924, has at last been forgiven by the International Olympic Committee and will, from the Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, be no longer on the undistinguished list of 'discontinued sports'.

So, such esoteric disciplines as jeu de paume, tug of war, croquet, cricket, polo, motor boating and pelota must pursue their unrequited ways without the accolade of a crowning with the laurels of Baron de Coubertin. Life can be tough for some, can't it?

Not that all those discontinued sports should be dismissed without a sort of emotional look back. In 1900 at the Paris Games, for instance, the Danish tug of war team prevailed upon a working journalist to fill a gap on their team.

His name was Edgar Aaybe and the Danes managed to prise him out of the nearby bar -- or wherever he happened to be covering the Games -- and he found himself on the winning team.

And then there was croquet and the participation of three women in that 1900 competition. The official report of the Paris event defended the inclusion of croquet. It pointed out it would be wrong to disdain the sport. "It develops a combative mind", the report insisted. "One has only to see it transforms young girls into reasoners and from reasoners into reasonable people."

Rugby is only half-admitted to the Olympics, actually. Rugby Sevens will be played in Brazil and the Irish are not exactly boiling over with enthusiasm at the prospect.

I note that England, Scotland and Wales are amalgamating to produce a Sevens squad, but there are no signs that, unlike track and field athletics, they are going to inflict us with the political Great Britain and Northern Ireland nonsense.

In fact, common sense applies here as athletes in the north are permitted to declare for Ireland if they so wish.

As for that 'unmerciful row' in the Paris games in 1924 which resulted in rugby getting the bum's rush, it occurred at the Stade Colombes when about 40,000 French supporters were dumbfounded when the Americans, an unconsidered force, beat their side by 17-3 in a bad-tempered final.

After a couple of French players were laid out by suspicious American activities, the booing and hissing persisted for the remainder of the match. Trouble broke out on the terraces. One American spectator was knocked unconscious with a blow from a walking stick, 'The Star Spangled Banner' was drowned out by booing and the police had to escort the American victors off the field at the end of the match.

As for tug of war, the first two places in the finals in the 1908 London Games were filled by City of London Police and Liverpool Police with such names as Paddy Philbin, Ned Barrett, Tom Butler, Dan McLowry and Bill Greggan among the medal winners. Guess where they came from?

Incidentally, a team named as Shamrocks won the 1904 lacrosse event at St Louis. They were from Canada and there was not an Irish name among them.

Irish Independent

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