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Spare a thought for our Olympians if the bell tolls for Tokyo Games


Brendan Irvine. Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Irvine. Photo: Sportsfile


Brendan Irvine. Photo: Sportsfile

It's been a weird week in general, but Brendan Irvine's week has been weirder than most. On Monday, the Belfast flyweight made it through to this year's Olympics when he won a points decision over Hungary's Istavan Szaka at the European qualifying tournament in London. This makes it two Olympics in a row for Irvine, who's probably been focussing on qualification for this one since being eliminated from the last one.

It was a significant personal milestone for a fighter who's only just back after an 18-month lay-off due to a broken foot. But later that day the tournament was called off due to . . . well, you don't need me to tell you its name. Irvine must feel a bit like the man who got the last helicopter ride out of Saigon.

George Bates is like one of the guys who got left on the roof. The Tallaght light-welterweight was just one fight away from Tokyo when the final bell rang in London. Another eight Irish boxers were two fights away. The disappointment must be doubled in the Walsh family of Belfast, where siblings Aidan and Michaela both have to cool their heels for a bit and see what happens next.

What may happen next, of course, is the postponement of the Olympics.

At a time when lives are being threatened and jobs being lost, it's probably a bit much to speak of having sympathy for sports people who'll be affected by a postponement.

Sympathy might be the wrong word. But I do feel something for people who've dedicated their lives to a goal which may in the end prove to be a wild goose chase. Someone like Brendan Irvine, for example, is in a very different position to a player in the major European soccer leagues.

They're paid an awful lot more than he is for one thing. And chances are their competitions will resume within a few months, behind closed doors if needs be. The Olympics is a different kettle of fish. Cancel it this year and it will be at least 12 months before it can take place again.

You can't reschedule it for this winter when, flu seasons being what they are, Covid-19 could be enjoying a resurgence. And who's to say that the problem will have cleared up sufficiently by next year for Japan, which has the world's highest proportion of over-70s in its population, to feel confident of hosting something like the Olympics?

For most of Ireland's Olympians, the games tower over every other competition. It's not just what it represents achievement wise, it's the way it provides an opportunity for exceptional competitors in sports normally dwarfed in terms of public attention by soccer, GAA and rugby to make their mark. Putting themselves in position to compete in Tokyo has involved enormous effort and no little sacrifice.

I'm sure the first thoughts of our Olympians at the moment will be of their vulnerable loved ones rather than of themselves. But, as people who've invested so much hope and effort into 2020, they've caught a tough break all the same.

Sunday Indo Sport