Irish Examiner view: How long can sport stay ‘international’?

Irish Examiner view: How long can sport stay ‘international’?

In the Paris Olympics a fierce row is brewing about whether athletes from Russia and Belarus should be allowed to participate.

Today we can remember what many people regard as the greatest rugby match in the history of the game — the 1973 victory of the Barbarians against the All Blacks at the National Stadium in Cardiff. 


Check out our Sustainability and Climate Change Hub where you will find the latest news, features, opinions and analysis on this topic from across the various Irish Examiner topic desks and their team of specialist writers and columnists.

It defined what everyone loves about rugby and was encapsulated by an opening try that has to be seen to be believed. It can still be joyfully experienced, on video, DVD, and Youtube.

Nearly 1,000 people gathered at Celtic Manor near Newport for lunch yesterday to recall that cold but clear day of January 27, 50 years ago. 

The team that faced the All Blacks was a quasi-British (and Irish) Lions team, the majority of whom had featured in a legendary tour victory 17 months earlier. Six of the players on the pitch that day have passed, the most recent being the English cavalier, David Duckham.

The Barbarians are known as an international invitation XV, but the only person without skin in that particular game was the referee, Frenchman Georges Domercq. 

It was an encounter which paved the way for generations of international competition, on demand, and experienced in real time to serve the voracious broadcasting networks across the world. And earn reflected glory for sponsors and advertisers who provide the money.

As the celebrations and nostalgia flowed in South Wales, and in a rugby world cup year, it might be an appropriate moment to consider for how much longer we will enjoy the unfettered excitement of comprehensive international competition across all sports. 

Global conflict and tensions will continue to leave their mark on tournaments, just as they have this week in the Australian Tennis Open in Melbourne where pro-Putin supporters hijacked a selfie with the father of Novak Djokovic

In the Paris Olympics, a fierce row is brewing about whether athletes from Russia and Belarus should be allowed to participate.

But there is an even greater question which sports men and women will have to face in the decades ahead, and that is whether we can continue to enjoy the enormous levels of travel which accompany the worldwide competitive calendar. For now, the debate is limited to a few young competitors, much mocked by social media commentators. 

The talented British female distance runner Innes Fitzgerald, has declined to participate in the World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Australia next month because she cannot square her climate concerns with long-distance flights.

“The plane will leave without you,” she is told on Twitter.

But she will not be the last to make this decision. Big sport and its participants and supporters will be obliged to face the challenge of global warming, and that reckoning is coming sooner than we think.

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