Irish Sports Council should reverse their carding scheme review

Sat, Jan 12, 2013, 00:00

ON ATHLETICS:John Lennon always said life is what happens while you’re planning for the next Olympics, or words to that effect. For some people it’s sad but perfectly true, their life cycle sometimes getting lost in the so-called Olympic cycle, as if nothing else matters, at least not in the sporting context.

Only 1,301 days to Rio! And believe me, there are others actually counting down the seconds. Indeed no sooner had the metal cooled on those copper petals inside the London Olympic cauldron than talk turned to 2016, four years on, as if the future was already a thing of the past.

And as if that wasn’t sad enough, some people are already talking about 2020, where they’re likely to be that summer: Tokyo, Madrid, or Istanbul? Because in case they needed any reminder, last Monday was the deadline for those three bidding cities to submit their official candidature files to the offices of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne.

With that begins eight frantic months of lobbying (all legit, naturally, all bribes now strictly forbidden), culminating in the 125th IOC session in Buenos Aires, on Saturday, September 7th, in the grand conference room at the Hilton Hotel, when Jacques Rogge, in his last act as IOC president, will open the sealed envelope and slowly utter those historic words, “and the Games of the something-something Olympiad goes to . . .”

Hurraaahh!!!

That’s not saying it won’t be an interesting eight months, all three cities genuine contenders, representing Europe, Asia, and a classic straddling of the two, a sort of East meets West that won’t be lost on the IOC sentimentality. (Not forgetting either the initial bids from Doha and Baku, cut by the IOC last May, or indeed Rome, who assembled a very strong initial bid before opting out themselves, last February, citing the impossible financial burden.)

Early favourite

For what it’s worth, Tokyo is the early favourite, the 4 to 6 front-runners, their technically and economically sound bid and existing facilities only hampered by an apparent lack of public support, perhaps some imagination, and a somewhat unstable footing after the 2011 tsunami. It’s worth remembering too that the early front-runners rarely win (think Beijing, 2000, or more surprisingly Paris, 2012), but its fair budgeting of $4.7 billion, and a beautiful Olympic Stadium already being renovated for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, makes Tokyo seem the most sensible choice – it definitely gets my vote.

It’s no secret that Istanbul is fast becoming one of the great epicentres of the world, not just because of Turkey’s bubbling economy, and with a proposed budget of $19.2 billion, the IOC will certainly take note, not forgetting that no Muslim country has yet hosted the Olympics. Odds of 5 to 2 still seem a bit generous, given Istanbul is still starved of Olympic venues.

Fears that Istanbul’s bid to also stage Euro 2020 might upset the IOC have been averted, as Uefa have since announced plans to stage that tournament across the continent.

Then there’s Madrid, the current 3 to 1 outsiders, yet making a third successive bid for a Games they must now feel stubbornly entitled to. The IOC will certainly note their impressive persistence, but also Spain’s chronic unemployment and slow economic meltdown.

White elephants

Promoting a budget of just $1.9 billion (London’s public spending came in at $14 billion), Madrid might actually appeal to the IOC’s financial controllers, conscious, perhaps, of creating any more white elephants to stand alongside the Athens Olympic Park, or Beijing’s Bird’s Nest, but if Madrid does win the 2020 bid, it might well have come down to one of their candidate leaders, Juan Antonio Samaranch Junior, son of, yes, the once most powerful man in Olympic history.

The IOC evaluation team begin the “bid” visits in March, starting in Tokyo, then Madrid, and finally to Istanbul, with a final review of files in July, before the big announcement in September.

Meanwhile, our athletes get on with their life cycle, trying, often in vain, to ignore the obsession with the Olympic cycle – and the same goes for our swimmers, sailors, and of course boxers, with Katie Taylor already in the midst of her “Road to Rio”, which seems perfectly absurd, given all that can happen between now and then.

Sadder still, or perhaps more worrying, is that the Irish Sports Council appear to be falling into this trap, proposing, as part of their review of the international carding scheme, that Olympic medals be the primary objective behind athlete support, followed by Olympic final places, then Olympic qualification, and, least of all, winning medals at World or European competitions – when actually the reverse should be the case.

Either way, it doesn’t seem to matter as much that we currently boast the fastest, strongest, leanest women’s distance runner on the continent, the all-conquering, first ever back-to-back European Cross Country champion, Fionnuala Britton.

Unfortunately, as Britton discovered this week, she can’t talk about her current run of success without being reminded about Rio, asked about her chances of winning a medal there, perhaps even in the marathon, a distance she has yet to even contemplate running. Imagine all the people could live in the present, let that be good enough, if only once every four years.

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