Sport Ryder Cup

Saturday 17 August 2019

Ewan MacKenna: 'Money from Ryder Cup vanity project would be better spent elsewhere'

Adare Manor which is to host the 2026 Ryder Cup
Adare Manor which is to host the 2026 Ryder Cup
Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

Here we go again.

The perfect sporting addendum that has once more attached itself to this precipice point in the economic cycle. A non-negotiable, feel-good, we-all-win reminder that the good times are back. A Ryder Cup means we can all party, after all.

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How quickly the national amnesia has descended and delusion has taken its hold.

Back in 2006, so much was similar and it was then we sold a fitting, microcosmic version of ourselves with a greedy, grab-all arrogance based on our dwelling-on-the-sand and quick-and-easy-loan style of society. The ads were chilling then and now involve a look back through fingers.

€20,000 for 10 nights in a six-bed house in an exclusive estate minutes from Navan city centre, 35 miles from the K Club. Airport transfers are included and €20,500 for nine nights in this luxurious three-bed apartment in Saggart, Co Kildare, 10 miles from the K Club.

We've nearly come full circle.

By 2026 we will have, although before then we've seven years of the obvious coming our way. Talk of a vital boost to the local green grocer. Endless chatter about legacy. Being told you can't put a price on joy. Highly-paid consultancy firms throwing out eyebrow-raising numbers around benefit.

So much of the cushy rhetoric has been disproved in the context of major sport, but is still accepted by a slack-jawed people as money is transferred from public hands to the best-placed private pockets as big businesses cash in.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Move over Rugby World Cup for that was so 2018, and this will now be the third biggest sporting event going for the foreseeable future. Dare to step out of line and it'll be bitter begrudgery and needless negativity.

* * *

When Adare Manor's victory was made public, there was the predictable political posturing and JP McManus was quickly called out as a hero despite the fact this is being underwritten by the taxpayers. Then again so much in the sphere of hosting of major sports events is knee-jerk and an epidemic of smiles despite the much-highlighted financial realities.

In The Simpsons, Mr Burn's attitude should be how we approach such tournaments. When Homer's get-rich-quick scheme offering eternal happiness for a dollar reached his phone, he muttered, "I think I'd be happier with the dollar". Ireland would certainly be a better-off country by putting the millions of dollars to be spent on a golfing weekend into vital and struggling sectors, but this is what amounts to distraction politics from government. Rather than investing what little money we have into solving actual problems, we invest in something superficial so that people might forget those problems. Rather than laying a foundation of education and health-care and beyond, instead we decide to go all out for the vanity-project option.

Those IMF payments can wait. There's some in-the-hole roars to be let off first.

McManus does deserve his congratulations for this was his goal and his dream and to achieve that is something so few people can lay claim to. He invested a lot of himself and his fortune into Adare Manor but he's also a shrewd businessman and you can be sure there'll be a return. That will be the real legacy for Ryder Cup history and common sense suggest his course and hotel will get years of inflated custom at hugely increased prices. The problem is that everyone else won't get that return and, while Shane Ross throws out €50m as a cost and €100m as an economic benefit, what's that based on?

With no details - for there are next to no proper plans yet - we don't know.

For starters, such costs are never what they say on the tin. With a Ryder Cup that can be worse as to get hold of such genuine prestige, the European Tour make it clear this is what they cash in on to fund the rest of their calendar. Paris paid big. Rome paid big. This is a matter of record. So why are we different? It's the financial engine for them yet who will stand up and say the entire notion of tax isn't actually to fund pro golf competitions?

Besides, that taxpayer spending has already started via the back-and-forth trips and meetings to pull this off. Yet there are few insights into what's already gone on and that alone should worry. On 17 October, parliamentary records show a question was put by Catherine Murphy's office to the Department of Sport requesting the minutes of a meeting held in Paris between Shane Ross and tour officials. The response was a refusal based on undermining any future negotiating positions. By 6 December, a similar question was submitted. The reply read refused to expand based on "the integrity of negotiations".

With the hosting of the cup assured, Ross said that to talk numbers wasn't possible because it was "commercially sensitive". That phrase is the mask so many governments hide behind in bringing big sport at a bigger cost. From Rio to Athens, from South Africa to our own thankfully botched attempts to get a Rugby World Cup.

Lesson learned however? Of course not, for now we cheer despite those who have studied big sporting events from academics to authors, independent economists to accountants, showing such events aren't worth the price tag.

Financially. And also morally.

Benefits are always inflated by ignoring the likes of tourism that would have come anyway but will instead avoid the crowds, and by ignoring those who are ripped off and won't be back. That's before any overruns on the other side of the balance sheet. And while there will be benefits, they are swallowed whole without the probing. For example in 2006 the Naas dual-carriageway was expanded to three lanes (Adare wants and needs a bypass), and thus provided employment while that was carried out, but such capital projects can be done without a Ryder Cup and the costs it brings. Meanwhile remember the majority of spending will go to those highly placed in retail, accommodation and food. It's the great trick for while everyone pays, those best off get the most back. A rising tide lifts all boats, but some remain in yachts.

This isn't anti-golf. It isn't even anti-sport. For the claim of sport is what this wealth transfer uses as justification. It's a tragic pity as the success-and-victory spiel has already begun, shackling itself to Shane Lowry's incredible triumph while pretending it's one more good golfing news story. Only it's nothing like the remarkable achievements of the Offaly man.

In fact it's the opposite as this is a major loss for the majority.

Here we go again though. We'll all party.

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