Saturday 17 March 2018

Supporters make their views count

John O'Brien

When the fund was launched to help Paul Kimmage fight his case against the world cycling body, UCI, and donations quickly began to arrive in from all corners of the globe, people looked on and expressed surprise.

And last week, when the Irish men's hockey team established an appeal fund to send them to a tournament in Argentina next month and exceeded their target within four days, people expressed astonishment. So much goodwill out there. Who knew?

Well, nobody really. That people were truly shocked by such generosity was interesting. Of course, the recession would have something to do with this. Few ordinary sporting fans have much by way of disposable income to bandy around these days. And, while worthy in their own right, these weren't clearcut charitable cases. Nobody was being airlifted to the US for emergency heart transplant surgery. They weren't matters of life or death.

Still, maybe there is something deeper at play here. A sense that our sporting values have become so polluted with cynicism, an inevitable consequence of the dopers taking over cycling and athletics, the divers and foulers blighting football, the fixers and chancers undermining horse-racing and cricket. It became that bit harder to automatically see the good in people, to imagine that sport could ever be a pure, incorruptible force for good again.

But it can and there's a good example happening under our noses in Irish football right now. For years, as the game slipped into decay, the common reaction among supporters was to complain about almost everything: the FAI, rival fans, their own club directors, the press. Many of their complaints were well-founded but ultimately pointless. They were predicated on others coming to the rescue, never seeing the contribution they themselves could make.

Now they do. Over the next two weeks meetings will be held in Galway, Dundalk and Dublin where fans are invited to discuss issues affecting them and their clubs and it will culminate in a fans' weekend in Cork in the second week of November where, it is hoped, the energy and ideas taken from those forums can be shaped into a positive force for the good of the game. Sometimes good things happen off the field too.

Not that it's all perfect, of course. For all the relief the Irish men's hockey team feel, imagine how furious they must be that their own officers let the situation develop and then compounded it by failing to disclose, initially, that money was at the heart of the issue. This is the same group of players, remember, who made huge personal sacrifices to try to qualify for the Olympics only to be agonisingly denied by a late Korea goal.

The crucial thing is that they didn't let the initial blow derail their ambitions of competing. They stayed positive and never stopped believing they could find a way. Similarly, football fans are learning to park their anger, that with one voice it is easier to effect the kind of change they want, rather than having it foisted upon them. And Kimmage will know that when he goes to Switzerland, he isn't travelling alone or fighting a solitary fight.

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