18 August 2008 – by Cormac Campbell
There is little doubt that in the Irish Olympic garden, boxing is king. That we perform better in the ring than on the track, field, pool, court or any other type of platform is beyond reproach.
But this is not a monologue about the virtues of boxing in Ireland, rather a criticism of the lack of Olympic sporting facilities throughout the island.
Asides from boxing, we dont play Olympic sports and if a child had an interest in taking one up, a parent would have tremendous difficulty locating suitable facilities.
To put this in context, I grew up in Newry – a town and council area with an immediate population of 90,000 people quite high by Irish standards. Only 12 miles away is Dundalk, a similarly sized town with an equivalent catchment area. Belfast is 37 miles north and Dublin 67 miles south. As such nearly three quarters of the entire population of Ireland lives within an hour and a half of my front door.
Despite this, in my youth I did not see, never mind run on a proper running track, swim in a 50m pool, throw a javelin or jump off a diving board. This was not because I did not want to, but that there were no facilities to do so and if there were, I didnt know they existed.
We played football (whether that is soccer, Gaelic or rugby is irrelevant), hurling and golf. Next on the list for serious participation is boxing. And whilst other minority sports are poorly provided for, there are dozens of well-equipped boxing gyms the length and breadth of Ireland. In them, there are coaches who tutor young boxers usually at a loss and if these boxers are of a high enough standard they will be selected for International teams and training.
In the scheme of things, a boxing gym costs much less to establish and operate than a 50m pool/running track etc. So, in simple economic terms, a large part of our problem is of a lack of capital investment rather than the existence of a mythical fighting Irish gene.
The sad truth is that there are probably hundreds of Irishmen and women who would have been good enough to win medals at the Olympics in certain disciplines but were never given the opportunity to even try the sport which best suited them.
To make matters worse it is not that we werent able to afford better facilities. But in the last decade and a half we got rich by ripping our neighbours off and spent every penny without making provision for the future. We have plenty of 4x4s that we cant afford to drive (unless it is up North to buy cheap groceries) and 12 houses each, but we have virtually nothing that is sustainable, productive or sellable.
Granted, the GAA has made wonderful provision for its clubs and counties but as a general sports fan it would have been nice if more of our wealth had been filtered in to the development of Olympic sporting facilities.
That is not to say that we could not be doing things better with what we have.
For example, there is a school beside my house which has been closed all summer. In it there are two fully-equipped sports halls and a weights room that lie idle with the classrooms. This is something which is probably pretty consistent everywhere in Ireland.
At the same time we have one of the highest child obesity rates in Europe. Simply put, these facilities, when not being used by the school should be open to the public and sports clubs without premium prices.
The reality is that we need to play more sport if we are to excel at sport.