BRENDAN O'BRIEN: Commonwealth could do with a rub of the green

Should Ireland ever commit to the Commonwealth again, it would only be to the benefit of its sports men and women in the 26 counties, smack bang in the middle of every Olympic cycle

Summertime and the livin’ is finally a bit easier. In a sporting sense, anyway. What with the World Cup in Brazil layered on top of the usual diet of GAA, Wimbledon, Tour de France and whatever else you’ve been having yourself, it’s been the usual smorgasbord of action and, well, hands up if you’ve overindulged too. The relief will hardly last long.

There is always something to pick over while we wait for the All-Irelands to reach their pitch or the Premier League season to smother us again and the BBC will be doing its utmost to satisfy our cravings over the course of this two weeks or so with its wallpaper coverage of the Commonwealth Games beamed daily from Glasgow.

It is the third-biggest multi-event sporting competition in the world, but the Commonwealth Games have never held much traction here. Even in Britain, there has been a spate of articles and broadcast debates arguing over the merit or otherwise of the event, and of the body itself which, for all the rebranding, is still associated with the days of Empire. It’s those trappings and history that makes the thought of Ireland doubling back on its decision to leave the Commonwealth in 1949 such a touchy subject and yet it is one that has popped its head up rather more frequently in recent years thanks, in part, to State visits embarked on across the Irish Sea by Queen Elizabeth II and President Michael D Higgins.

A most cursory amount of research will throw up some salient points on the whole debate. de Valera himself opposed leaving it, for a start. Over half its members states are republics like ours and allegiance need not be declared to the Queen who is, in fact, merely the declared figurehead of the operation.

Supporters of the idea that Ireland should consider renewing its membership point to advantages economic, political, social and cultural, as well as to the symbolism such a gesture would make to the unionist community in the North. Yet, there are numerous opponents to the body’s existence and what it stands for as well, and not just on these shores.

Paula Gerber, writing in The Guardian, pointed out that 42 of the 53 members still possess laws declaring homosexuality to be a crime and that over half maintain a justice system which continues to utilise the death penalty. And then there is the vast majority for whom the Commonwealth is about as relevant as the latest music trends in Ulaanbataar.

What is abundantly clear, however, is that should Ireland ever commit to the Commonwealth again, it would only be to the benefit of its sports men and women in the 26 counties for whom access to such a platform, smack bang in the middle of every Olympic cycle, would be an invaluable boon.

Others have long cottoned on to that.

“Our little tag line for these Games is ‘The road to Rio goes through Glasgow and Toronto [and the 2015 Pan American Games]’.” So. Brian MacPherson, Commonwealth Games Canada chief executive, told Canadian Press before the Games began this week. “This is where future Canadian sport stars are born.”

Coincidence or not, it was pointed out in the same article that all 18 of those Canadians who won medals at the 2012 Olympics previously competed at the Commonwealth Games. The experience to be banked by simply attending — and, in some cases, winning — at such an event is clear.

Australia, too, see the sense in it.

Malcom Knox, writing in The Sydney Morning Herald this week, spoke of how the Aussies have always been the “USA” of the Commonwealth and the medal horde they collect in Scotland will go some way towards salving the pride of a wounded nation for whom Olympic success has been harder to come by in recent times.

Let’s not be blind to its faults, either.

Not all the star athletes eligible to compete have made the trip to Scotland. Some preferred the lure of cash in Europe’s big summer meets to the prospect of a medal whose cache is substantially weakened by the smaller pool in which it is earned. Yet, Ireland’s own Rio ambitions are being aided by events in Glasgow as we speak.

Northern Ireland will be represented by 117 athletes across 14 sports. Among them will be athletes for whom a place in Team Ireland in Rio is the overarching ambition: Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlon in the ring, Sycerika McMahon in the pool, Martyn Irvine on the bike, Lisa Kearney on the judo mat and Aileen Reid in triathlon.

Belfast boxer Joe Fitzpatrick risked a minor diplomatic incident this week when he said he would carry the tricolour around the Opening Ceremony if he got 100 retweets. Wisely, he didn’t follow, so we can only speculate as to what would be if the Irish flag was there in an official capacity.

Email: Twitter: @Rackob


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