Ireland needs to think again re Olympics

“Team GB” had a staggering Rio Summer Olympics. For many, including me, it was a marked comparative improvement on the last one, given that it came away from home and was so far in excess of what past comparable hosts (cf. Australia 2004 after 2000) have managed.

It was, however, “Team GB”. Northern Ireland contributed not a single medal to the haul.

Most Northern Irish competitors were, of course, competing for “Team Ireland”. However even that entire team, with a population higher than New Zealand and comparable to Denmark, mustered just two silvers. Let us even leave aside the disgrace around its Chief, who ended up arrested.

To be clear, to reach the semi-final of the 1500m at the Olympics or reaching the latter stages of the archery is a fantastic achievement; and if you do it, it should be cause for much local and family pride. One boxer was, of course, outright robbed in the quarter-final. Individuals have no cause for disappointment – many performed admirably given the resources and facilities available.

There, perhaps, is the issue, however. “Team Ireland” (and “Team Northern Ireland” in Commonwealth Games) has consistently now won only a handful of medals, and even those have usually been confined to one or two disciplines. Sure, therefore, when it comes to Olympic sport the island of Ireland needs to think again – just as the UK did in 1996 having won just one gold medal (imagine!!)

Ireland, even as an island, cannot of course hope to match Great Britain in terms of the availability of resources and facilities. It can, however, copy much of what has proven so successful there, or in other comparably sized countries such as Denmark and New Zealand. It can identify talent more efficiently; it can invest in world-class facilities (which have potential community as well as “elite” benefit); most of all, perhaps, it can focus on funding coaching.

“Team Ireland” at the Olympics (as Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games) has some reason for pride, but fundamentally it is second rate. If it wishes to close the gap with the real first-class performers, it will need to reform fundamentally how it operates. It will also need to aim considerably higher.

[Just one slight niggle – we can’t have it both ways re GB’s result. Either positions are determined on total medals (in which case GB’s performance in 2016 was better than 2012 but it came third, not second, in the table) or on golds (in which case GB came second in 2016 but its result was narrowly worse than 2012, when it won 29 golds). According to the IOC, it is the latter.]

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3 thoughts on “Ireland needs to think again re Olympics

  1. Kevin Breslin says:

    Some of the frustrating ones …
    Men’s Field Hockey … Gleghornes couldn’t make the quarter finals, with two tries.
    Cycling (Road Racing) … Either Team GB or Team Ireland had a realistic chance of a medal.

    Boxing … Went in as the best group of Irish boxers but wasn’t prepared for the tournament, Michael Conlon aside arguably.
    Rugby Sevens … Barely a developmental sport in this region, nowhere near qualification standard to have a decent Irish team, I would doubt any could make the British team even if the IRFU let them.
    Golf … McIlroy could’ve played for Monaco and many people would have supported him, regardless of how well he fared, dido other local golfers. The Zika virus was a ridiculous excuse when he was found holidaying in a Carribean nation with just as high a Zika risk.
    He should’ve said he’s not going to a lesser tournament.

    • Seymour Major says:

      I understand your disappointment in not seeing McIlroy performing at the Olympics. We can never be sure what was in McIlroy’s mind when he decided not to attend the Olympics.
      I think, however, that it is unfair to pass negative judgment on his stated reason. It is very plausible that this virus was a threat to his intentions to start a health family. He is also not the only sportsperson to have declined for that reason.

  2. Guess_Who says:

    It is absolute FARCE that ALL sports don’t represent N.I on the international scene, the current concept highlights the discrimination shown towards Northern Ireland in many aspects.

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