JOHN RIORDAN: Reality dictates grassroots needs alcohol revenue

It wasn’t until very recently that I saw evidence of the Black and Tan drink up close.

It’s a relatively popular stout and ale cocktail in the US — a half-in-half combination of Guinness and Bass, with the less dense black stuff settling on top.

I hammed it up for my American friends and they responded with a satisfying amount of shame: “What about the Irish Car Bomb (Guinness, Baileys and Jameson)? Is that not very PC either?”

The Black and Tan’s drink incarnation dates back to the 19th century in England but the astonishing revival of the micro-brewery scene in North America has revived all manner of alcoholic choices. Of course, many people in Ireland will recall that Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and, more recently, Nike were both reprimanded in the last few years about products using the Black and Tan moniker which never stood a chance in the Irish market.

It has to be said, though, that we don’t really have the moral upper hand in Ireland — Cork has seen the infamous confederate flag waved at GAA games, alarming those Americans horrified by their nation’s history of slavery and subsequent racial strife.

All of this pales into insignificance if the recommendations of the cabinet subcommittee on social policy to ban alcohol sponsorship in sport come to pass. This debate first raged a few weeks ago and their conclusions were released this past weekend.

So the timing of the Guinness International Champions Cup couldn’t be more apt. Just as sport in Ireland tries to find a way of weaning itself off the big bucks of booze, the beverage most associated with this nation is funding the growing popularity of soccer across the Atlantic.

The eight-team pre-season tournament began Saturday in Valencia but is dominated by fixtures across the United States, culminating in Miami in a week and a half.

Many Americans have caught on to the fact that the growing tendency of European teams to spend their pre-season in the US is little more than a jolly for the players but the timing and the manner of these games seem to indicate a shift in focus. Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Valencia, Everton and Chelsea are close to full strength given the fact their respective seasons are drawing very near while the Los Angeles Galaxy are a bit more than a token presence for the domestic league.

“It is important that we improve our conditioning by playing important games against strong teams,” said new Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti last week ahead of tomorrow’s game against the Galaxy in Arizona. “And to improve our brand by showing a good image of football. Also for the team to stay together for 10 days in the USA is a good way to improve the mentality of the side, improve the relationship with each other.... It is very good for us to play these type of hard games. In one month our season starts, and we have to be ready.”

The structure of the competition is a little complicated but perfectly suited to maximising the teams’ involvement without danger of overdoing it — they are all assured three games.

Dodger Stadium in LA will enjoy a double-header on Saturday which will mark the first ever time that soccer has been played in the iconic Chavez Ravine baseball stadium while another set of games takes place Sunday at the home of the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets. All eight teams will then travel to SunLife Stadium in Miami where they will be hosted by the NFL’s Dolphins whose owner Stephen Ross is the co-founder and chairman of RSE Ventures, the agency aggressively pushing this agenda of providing games with more bite than your average slow-paced exhibition.

“We hope that this tournament dispels a lot of myths,” said Charlie Stillitano, RSE chief executive.

“The biggest one is that it’s not really good for European teams to go to the pre-season in America because they’re not going to win their leagues... Ancelotti won a double after doing a preseason in the US.”

The marketing spin and product placement is all very well but it’s also the reality of modern sport. Pockets are lined but grassroots are benefited too.

No alcoholic will ever blame rugby for a decision to drink Heineken and the point has been made often that as long as the Government make foreign dignitaries down a pint of Guinness for self-perpetuating photo ops, it’ll always be an extremely unfair demand of the FAI, IRFU, the GAA and all the rest to keep their income booze-free.

There’s no easy solution but the Government must think long and hard about giving sporting organisations more headaches than they already have.

Email: john.w.riordan@gmail.com Twitter: JohnWRiordan


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