“I make no apologies for it — I’m the guy who wants to bring the Olympics to Dublin.”
Oh, how we laughed. At first, anyway. What people forget about Gay Mitchell’s pitch to bring the five-ringed circus to town back in 1992 was that it wasn’t some sort of spontaneous brain fart.
This wasn’t Shane Ross talking on the hoof at some Oireachtas committee meeting. The then Lord Mayor of Dublin was deadly serious. He followed his words up with actions.
Mitchell went so far as to set up a committee that would look in detail at the prospect. Price Waterhouse were brought on board to look into the costs and came back with a figure of £2bn, 20% of it to come from the state.
Mitchell said he had the backing of the city council, too. “I thought there would be some sceptics,” he admitted at the time.
There were. Millions of them.
But by February of the following year, there were reports that none other than Tony O’Reilly was on board for an all-island bid that would be presented as a “Games of Reconciliation”.
Mitchell was on about appointing a chief executive to drum up technical reports and there was talk of £1m being needed for feasibility studies that would put meat on the idea’s bones.
A site on the docklands was mapped out, a land infill off Alfie Byrne Road in Fairview was said to be a possible spot for the Olympic Village, soccer would be played around the country and the main baseball stadium was costed at £100,000. All with a view to hosting the Olympics in 2004 or 2008.
To say it came to nothing isn’t totally true.
The committee spawned from it all morphed into the Dublin International Sports Committee (DISC). The Olympics aside, its stated brief was to “promote Dublin as an international sporting venue and to secure top-class facilities for the region”.
Heavy hitters sat on it. The likes of Tony Hanahoe, Kevin Heffernan, Pat McQuaid, and Mitchell himself.
It was linked with the odd project in the next few years: the proposed move to the capital of Wimbledon FC, the return of horse racing to the Phoenix Park and a tie-in with a US company that would spend £25m on building the long-awaited 50m pool the country so badly needed.
Pipe dreams. All of them.
The broad concept of attracting events to Dublin was a good one but doomed to failure in a country that, as Pat Hickey famously remarked at the time, couldn’t even build the jacks required for an Olympics.
The first 50m pool was still close to 10 years away and the long-mooted National Indoor Arena another decade-and-a-half again. What we have now is that landscape’s mirror image.
Ireland boasts a mushrooming list of superb facilities but no coherent plan as to how best to utilise them. Minister Ross went on this week about being “energised” by the idea of sports tourism and how it opened “very, very exciting” opportunities for the country. “The sky’s the limit,” he said.
If he is serious about sports tourism, then he should talk to Lars Lundov, chief executive of Sport Event Denmark, a ridiculously successful government organisation that has attracted hundreds of sports events and congresses to the Scandinavian country. Put a long-term plan and structure in place. Get the right people involved. Do it properly, like.
(Denmark, by the by, have yet to bid for the Olympics.) Problem is Irish sports ministers come and go. All of them coo over shiny toys like the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid and the pool games at Euro 2020.
Most are lucky enough to hold the brief at a time that coincides with the unveiling of another piece of the jigsaw at the National Sports Campus but few ever deign to get their hands dirty by digging down to the grassroots.
Back in 1993, when the Dublin Olympics idea was still being peddled about like snake oil, the then Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) couldn’t afford to host a weekend training session for its elite squad ahead of a meeting with England at the National Stadium.
Two days ago, Sean McComb, told this column a story that suggests little enough has changed.
McComb’s Government funding was discontinued this year despite a CV that includes a bronze medal at the inaugural European Games in 2015.
He defeated the reigning world and continental champion at the Europeans only last month but his career hangs by a thread and only then thanks to some belated financial support from Sport Ireland, the IABA and even his own family.
If Minister Ross, who has divested the sports portion of his departmental brief to Patrick O’Donovan and then Brendan Griffin, is of a mind to do anything in the sector, then he could start with finding the few extra euro that would allow elite athletes like McComb to go about the business of winning without fearing for their very careers.
McComb is entitled to his Olympic dream. Ross isn’t.
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