Tuesday 20 March 2018

White elephant back in the room

Eamonn Sweeney

Preserve us from men who, in the words of the great Seánie FitzPatrick, have "big balls". They are, after all, the kind of men who showed us how easy it is to ruin a country if you're prepared to think big enough.

Ireland hosting the Rugby World Cup is a real Big Balls idea. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that the economist Morgan Kelly, who saw through the follies of the Celtic Tiger before anyone else, described Ireland's bankers as "slightly dim ex-rugby players". Because the 2023 World Cup is like one of those sublimely foolish projects from the days when the skies over Ballybrit were black with helicopters and the genius of the Seáns: Quinn, Dunne and FitzPatrick, was generally proclaimed.

The idea is being praised to the hilt. Just like Gay Mitchell was praised for suggesting we could host the Olympics and Bertie Ahern was when he said that what the country really needed was a billion-euro sports stadium in Clondalkin. That was the Bertie Bowl. Now it appears we're going to have Enda's (white) Elephant.

For the government of a country with such dire sporting facilities for the ordinary citizen to suggest lashing out money for an enormous tournament in a sport played and watched by a minority of the population is breath-taking. This is a country with no proper indoor athletics stadium, though we've had world indoor champions. It is a country without a velodrome though we have a long tradition in cycling. More seriously, it is a country with a grievous shortage of school gymnasiums, community sports centres, municipal swimming pools and the type of indoor sports facilities which might help create a healthier population and ease the pressure on our money-guzzling health system.

The excuse for the parlous state of sports provision in this country is that the money simply isn't there. The money can, however, be found for a Rugby World Cup. Katie Taylor won Olympic gold from a gym with a leaking roof. Other world-class and potentially world-class boxers train in similarly dilapidated facilities. The money is not there for them either. Leo Varadkar is in effect saying, "let them eat rugby".

There's no photo op in the steady improvement of facilities at grassroots level.

I bet Seánie FitzPatrick thinks it's a brilliant idea. There might even be a place for some of the Anglo boys on the organising committee.

Commiserations to the people of Qatar. As of today, you're only the second stupidest possible venue for a World Cup.

Sunday Independent

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