Irish Sports Identity Crisis

Posted: August 22, 2012 in Media, Other Sports
Tags: , , ,

That’s IRELAND’S Katie Taylor, got it?!

Nothing gets the goat of the Irish like a sports-related injustice. In 2009 a Thierry Henry handball mobilised the nation into a marching, protesting, boycotting behemoth. The display of outraged solidarity truly was something to behold, the type of display sadly lacking when it came to the clearly more trivial matter of the Government of the day selling the country down the river in the 2008 bailout and thus condemning the country to decades of hardship. Fast forward to 2012 and it is clear that Ireland’s sporting skin is as thin as ever.

There is no doubt that what Henry did in the 2009 World Cup play-off game was wrong, but the hysterically over the top reaction to the incident – by fans, the Irish Government (!) and the Football Association of Ireland – quickly stripped Ireland of the moral high ground. Similarly it was wrong for the Daily Telegraph to refer to boxer Katie Taylor’s nationality as ‘British’, although one suspects this latest ‘injustice’ was borne more from lazy journalism and contained considerably less malice than the actions of a certain French footballer. But never mind, the Irish had identified their quarry and so thousands upon thousands of emails and tweets, each drenched in various amounts of bile, made their way to the Telegraph offices.

Whether Russell Barwick was aware of ‘Telegraph-gate’ and cynically decided to cash in and boost his ratings is anyone’s guess, but the presenter of Australia’s Pardon the Interruption sports magazine show has managed to trump the Telegraph typo and upset the Irish even more. Barwick’s crime was to suggest that the Irish Olympic team should combine with their British counterparts. Admittedly Barwicks comments were ignorant and in a land where people still get beaten to death in front of their children for wearing the ‘wrong’ Scottish soccer team’s jersey, his comments could clearly be considered incendiary to some.

But is the volume of outcry to Barwick’s comments really merited? Are the thoughts of a single broadcaster living some 13,000 miles away really worthy of the front page lead story in Ireland’s largest-selling newspaper? Barwick has received so much abuse on Twitter that he has felt the need to close his account, issue a full apology and no doubt purchase a nuclear bunker for his back garden. But if we were to look at his comments through glasses untainted by rabid nationalism, has he really said anything offensive?

As long as the peace process in the North of Ireland remains in its current fragile state any talk of unity between the two islands will never be countenanced, even in a harmless sporting context. But perhaps one day we will reach a level of maturity and allow for such a discussion.

Were such discourse permitted it would surely be pointed out that Irelands Olympic athletes have received in excess of €40 million in funding for the current four year cycle, the culmination of which is the London games. In a country where nearly one-in-ten live below the poverty line and there is 15% unemployment many would argue that spending €40 million for what amounts to a handful of medals is not just unnecessary, but morally repugnant. Clearly this is an expense Ireland can ill-afford, but were we to be part of a Great Briton and Ireland team (like the rugby lions, for instance), that cost would be lessened considerably. Besides, it is just our Olympic sovereignty we would be sacrificing, not all sports and certainly not our political sovereignty – that was already sacrificed in the aforementioned bailout.

What the indignant Tweeters lack in reason is clearly more than compensated for in their hypocrisy. How many of the thousands of Irish who have sent vile abuse to the Telegraph and Russell Barwick attended the Olympic torch relay as it made it’s way through the towns and cities of the Republic of Ireland recently? How many of the tweeters outraged at the Telegraphs faux pas have cheered on British footballers wearing the green jersey down through the years, having claimed them for Ireland? If second-generation Katie Taylor is Irish, third generation Andy Townsend was most certainly British. And what of Paddy Barnes, one of the few Irish recipients of a medal at these games? Barnes has received funding from the Olympic Council of Ireland, true, but he has also received UK Government funding by way of a Belfast City Council grant for his local gym. Imagine the reaction were Briton to name Barnes as one of their success stories from these games?!

It seems we Irish have a selective nationalism. We turn it on when we stand to gain (Olympic torch relay) and off when we stand to lose (Taylor’s nationality being questioned). Whilst there is nothing wrong with national pride it should be exercised in a less childlike manner. Either we are a separate country or we aren’t. If we are separate then we should not claim British footballers as our own, we should be the sole contributors to Paddy Barnes’ career and we should politely decline the very generous offer from our neighbours to share the Olympic torch relay. If, however, we accept these and other spoils, then we create an ambiguous border and therefore cannot cry foul when a TV presenter on the other side of the world fails to see a clear and definitive difference between our two nations.

Article first appeared on, August, 2012



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