Saturday 25 May 2019

We should follow Kiwis' minority route to Olympic glory

Sean Diffley

Pat Hickey, now one of the powerful 16 people on the International Olympic Committee executive board, has repeated his belief that Irish sportsmen and women should concentrate on the minor sports because we have little hope of success in the major events.

The question is: how do we concentrate on, and fund, those so-called minor activities?

Many of us had never heard of several of the, er, enterprises participating in London, but were intrigued to know how they subsidised their sport.

Interesting to note that cycling now so celebrated across the water, was endowed with a grant of £36m and, in the next breath, we hear that British Volleyball have had to let their national coach depart because they have no money to pay his salary.

So, in post-Olympics revelry, it appears some minor sports are more equal than others.

We are all agreed with Hickey's remarks, particularly as they were made within earshot of Taoiseach Enda Kenny. But I don't think many will agree with any contention that the major sports should be ignored -- track and field, swimming and equestrianism -- just because of a lack of success.

Hopefully the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) will turn its research into the downfall of Irish athletics. Once upon a time when every parish and, virtually every crossroads had its regular athletic events, the Irish ruled the roost, nationally and internationally.

Those were the days before Gaelic games, rugby and soccer dominated our sporting interests.

Since 1924, when we entered our first independent Irish team in the Olympics, we have managed just nine gold medals -- Dr Pat 0'Callaghan (2), Bob Tisdall, Ronnie Delany, Michelle de Bruin (3), Michael Carruth and Katie Taylor.

But in the days when Irish athletes had to compete for other countries, such as Britain and the United States, I count up 19 gold medals by the Irish-born. And a host of silver and bronze.

There was John Pius Boland (tennis, 1896), John Flanagan (three hammer golds), Tom Kiely, Peter O'Connor, Tim Ahearne, Matt McGrath, Martin Sheridan, who between 1904-08, won five gold, three silver and a bronze for the United States; Paddy Ryan, Pat Leahy, Robert Kerr, Ken McArthur and the wrestler, Con O'Kelly from Dunmanway, and the water polo and rugby international and referee, Noel Mary Purcell.

We won five medals in London, our best haul since 1956, but New Zealand (population four million) won 13 medals, including six gold.

And their total golds since the 1984 Games is 18. Their success has been gained in equestrianism, rowing, yachting, canoeing, men's hockey and boxing.

So theirs is the obvious example of how to enhance the more minor sports. Not that they ignore athletics -- you've heard of John Walker and Peter Snell.

Irish Independent

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