Can Dublin be reinvented as sports hub?
Some optimists might point to the excellent job Dublin did of hosting the Special Olympics, in 2003, although in terms of necessary sporting infrastructure, they were more along the lines of the Community Games than Olympic Games.
One particular facility remains sorely lacking, and perhaps best demonstrates how Dublin has missed countless opportunities to reinvent itself as a truly worthy sporting capital: back in 1987, Charles Haughey, then Taoiseach, staged a press conference at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, surrounded, I’m told, by most of his cabinet. With typical pomp, Haughey unveiled the Government’s long-promised plan for a National Convention Centre, which after a feasibility study costing well over one million of our dear old punts, was finally approved for the Dublin docklands.
It would, assured Haughey, house the similarly long-promised Indoor Sporting Arena, and with that give Irish athletics the indoor track it desperately needed.
Truth is I wasn’t there, although my father was, and overcome with a sense of déjà vu, he stood up in front of the assembly to ask whether he’d see this indoor track in his lifetime, to which Haughey cynically replied: “How old are you, young man?” – prompting all-round laughter.
Well, my father is not a young man anymore, although he is still living in hope, that he’ll see this indoor track in Dublin in his lifetime.
Later, in 1999, I stood in Santry Stadium to hear Jim McDaid, then minister for sport, unveil grand plans for an indoor track, to be built adjacent to the athletics stadium, yet no stone was ever turned; and in 2004, I heard another then minister for sport, John O’Donoghue, buzzing about his great new venture at Abbotstown, which would, eventually, boast an indoor sporting arena. Although, thankfully, Bertie never got to build his bowl there, either.
Sometimes it’s a matter of building it, and they’ll come: the National Boxing Stadium, down on South Circular Road, is hardly the most modern facility, but its modestly equipped gym has helped win us four Olympic medals in London.
The National Basketball Arena, in Tallaght, and the National Aquatic Centre, in Blanchardstown, are equally valuable, but would require major upgrading to stage an international championship.
Indeed Hickey more recently declared that we still have “zero percent” of proper Olympic facilities in Dublin, and perhaps the best we can hope for right now is that should Gaelic Games ever become an Olympic sport, at least then Dublin could step up to the starting blocks.