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Sonia O’Sullivan: True sport can be found in Croke Park – not Las Vegas

Big difference between pure sport and the exploitation of sport and fans for money 

McGregor versus Mayweather was a white elephant that somehow grabbed the attention of the public, even of those who claimed to have no interest. Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

It seems like most people I found it impossible to avoid that big event in Las Vegas last weekend. So much so that many other sporting events and achievements were either overshadowed or else went completely unnoticed.

And at some point between all the hype and opinion about Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather, I started to think about the value of sport. 

Even with so much publicity and near blanket coverage around the world, how many people actually cared about the final result? It hasn’t changed anything and doesn’t lead to something else. 

I’ve always felt the whole purpose of sport, whether you are a fun runner or an Olympic athlete is to progress, to take a step forward, and continually strive for the next level. 

This was a white elephant that somehow grabbed the attention of the public, even of those who claimed to have no interest. Many people were up in the early hours to see the live action, the build up, the fight and then the reaction. 

Many more slept soundly in their beds but would have been hard pressed to get through the day without mention of the result. 

For a change the time difference was in my favour. Still, this wasn’t something I had planned to sit down and watch on TV, even as it was happening in Australian daytime. I just found myself curious about the outcome, at the same time not really moved or caring about it either. 

It was Sunday afternoon, so I was checking the Twitter updates while out for a walk along an amazing sea cliff bridge, where you just had to pause and take in the views. I also had a friend in Dublin sending me updates as we continued the drive back to the airport. 

My daughter Sophie was also checking my phone while I was driving. She was amused after earlier I told her I wasn’t that interested, that all of a sudden I kept asking her for updates. Which again I think summed up a lot of people. 

It certainly had me thinking a lot about the value of pure sport and the exploitation of sport and fans for money. 

Perfect venue

I was away for the weekend, in a place called Wollongong, just over an hour south of Sydney for the Australian National cross-country championships. To me this is still one of the purest and most traditional forms of sport that still exists around the world. There were races for primary school children, secondary school and senior athletes, and all staged on a beautifully laid out purpose-built course that was both athlete- and spectator-friendly. 

It had a bit of everything; undulations, open space, a twisty winding run through the woods. It was the perfect venue, maybe just a little too dry and hard underfoot for the mudlarks and cross-country purists, due to the recent lack of rain and plentiful late Australian winter sunshine. 

One notable thing was the abundance of runners in the underage races and then dwindling entries as the age groups increased, particularly the under-20 girls and senior women.

It’s an issue seen all over the world, yet no one seems to be able to get to the bottom of what seems like an inevitable drop-off rate, and to find a way to keep girls involved in sport through those late teenage years. 

This is the time when the girls should be maturing and growing as athletes, often a rough patch needs to be negotiated, but those that persist often succeed. 

Then you wonder why the Irish rugby women feel they are not being taken seriously, feeling that they could have been better prepared for the World Cup, but didn’t feel they had the resources and back up support to match their commitment and desire to compete in front of a home crowd. 

This is a team that garnered the front pages of national newspapers only two years ago when they won the Six Nations competition for the second time and, prior to their male counterparts, were able to inflict a rare defeat on the World Cup winners New Zealand three years ago. 

It brings me back to a few years ago when the European Cross-Country championships were held in Dublin. There was the expectation that Ireland would deliver at least one medal, and it never happened. 

Usual suspects

This was a realistic opportunity at an event where Ireland has been successful down through the years, winning five individual medals and seven team medals. It is one thing to host an event on your doorstep but that doesn’t guarantee medals; if anything, this is a time when commitment, preparation and support need to greatly outweigh hope and expectation. 

I’ve been keeping an eye on the build-up to the All-Ireland hurling final this weekend, part of the novelty being the first ever meeting of Galway and Waterford in the All Ireland hurling final, the first final in 21 years without any of the usual suspects lining out from Cork, Kilkenny or Tipperary. 

This is one competition I’m always happy to sit and watch, even though I’ll  be arriving back in Ireland on Sunday a little too late to catch the game live. 

The first thing I’ll be doing when getting off the plane is checking the result, not just caring about it but feeling moved by it as well, knowing how special it is for both Waterford and Galway to reach the final.

It’s been nearly three decades since Galway raised the Liam MacCarthy, nearly twice that time for Waterford. One can only imagine the exhilaration and devastation that comes when the final whistle is blown. Without doubt an historic final to be savoured around the world.