Sporting success an aberration given inadequate level of funding
SIDELINE CUT:Leo Varadkar is probably right in declaring that the budget is not an “a la carte menu”. But he is forgetting that it is so long since most Irish people have been out to dinner that they half forget what that even means.
However, Minister Varadkar was one of the very few men of Dáil Éireann who was able to deliver news that, while not exactly good, was not explicitly bad either.
Yes, Government funding for sports is down by €1.3 million but the percentage cut is just 2.9 per cent rather than the anticipated five per cent.
You can be sure the Irish sports groups everywhere, from boxing (which has a core funding of €352,000) to baton twirling (€13,000) were grateful for that small relief.
I don’t think I am alone in frequently forgetting that Minister Varadkar is Our Man In Sport. Enda Kenny’s decision to hand that role to Varadkar, who had built a reputation for waspishly accurate attacks on the declining Fianna Fáil regime, was the most left field selection policy by any Mayo man since the high-flying Willie Joe Padden was sent in to play corner-forward for eight minutes during a league game in the autumn of 1988.
Sport just didn’t seem to be the right place for Leo: he never seemed like a sporty kind of guy and didn’t seem to fit in with the swashbuckling tradition of Irish sports ministers.
I am thinking here, of course, of men like Jim McDaid. The Donegal man had been a fine Collingwood Cup player in his college days and as he progressed in politics clearly enjoyed shooting the breeze about sport.
And more to the point, he looked like a sports minister should, which in those halcyon days (’97-2002) of a thundering economy and rampant optimism demanded a man who would not have looked entirely out of place in a magazine advert for expensive cognac.
Is it a dream or did the minister not sport a yellow polo-neck under blazer look in tandem with the Irish stage of the Tour de France back in 1998? There is only word for that look: debonair. No, in the good old days, the minister for sport was a fellow who could reflect the common man’s enthusiasm and appreciation for games and racing.
Too quickly we forget the barnstorming days of John O’Donoghue, whose enthusiasm for the job of being supporter-in-chief for everything from Munster rugby to Cheltenham literally knew no bounds.
Those, of course, were different days and Minister Varadkar represents an extreme break in tradition. Prior to Enda’s burst of inspiration, there was precious little sign that he was interested in sport at all.
The image consultants didn’t help much – a casual photo shot of Leo in a fetching Leinster scarf as he headed out to the RDS with the masses to watch ‘the boys’ would not have hurt.
But Leo took it in his stride. In fairness, sport is only part of the portfolio anyway. It was never hard to discern where sport ranked in the priorities of our politicians by the way it was always treated as an odd sock and paired with anything – culture or tourism or heritage or, as it is right now, transport.