Sunday 25 February 2018

Irish medal total pales in comparison to neighbours' haul

Sean Diffley

So, with a little infusion of applied mathematics spanning 84 years, from 1924 to 2008, the period when the newly-independent Ireland at last unfurled the tricolour in the Olympic Games -- no longer under the aegis of our masters Britain and the USA -- the total of Irish medals has amounted to 23.

Eight gold, the rest silver and bronze from athletics, boxing yachting, swimming.

And, as we flick through the pages of history, it struck me that we tend to fancy ourselves on this major stage. Don't we?

Yet, as we face into this bonanza in Britain over the next few weeks, it must be said that we rate poorly compared with the Olympic exploits of some of our neighbours, including countries of similar populations -- the likes of Norway, Holland, Finland, Belgium and Switzerland.

Looking farther afield to New Zealand, who play rugby well too, we find their Olympic haul since 1924 is 86 medals to our 23, with their four million inhabitants to our six million.

Finland, with a population of 5.2 million, have won 299 medals in this period; Denmark (5.5m) have won 170, Norway (4.5m) 144, Switzerland (7.4m) 86 and Belgium (10.3m) 139.

Sweden, with an 8.8 million population, heads the list with a grand total of 320 Olympic medals.

Only Portugal, in our global neighbourhood, has a lesser return than the Irish.

All of this poses the simple question -- why? Are we really serious about the whole concept?

Are we basically kidding ourselves? Are we content to mooch along and only get enthusiastic in the few weeks leading up to the Games?

Are we just bogged down with lack of proper sporting facilities or the lack of a genuine programme of physical education?

Proper swimming pools are mostly provided by hotels. Athletic tracks are not abundant. We even had the hilarious decision of a university who believed providing another car park was more important than maintaining a running track.

The main reasons for our lack of Olympic awareness are that our priorities are far removed from many of the events that will be beamed to the world from London.

Our major sporting activity surrounds Gaelic games and horse racing, neither of which are concerned with the Olympics in any way.

In Sweden or Norway or Finland, the talents of a Lar Corbett would see him involved with the javelin or discus; Joe Canning with the high jump or pole vault and Brian Cody running the rule over his charges on the athletic track.

And I would take a bet that the governments of those more successful Olympic countries mentioned pour much more finance into sport -- recession or no recession.

It reminds me of the joke: "Where were you in 1916?"

"I wasn't born in 1916".

"Ah, excuses, excuses."

Irish Independent

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