It’s been a good day for Ireland in the Olympics. An unusual thing to say in 2009, granted, but nonetheless decisions made today could pave the way for Olympic success for our fair isle.
The obvious bit of good news is the decision to allow women’s boxing into the Games from London 2012. While some people will have problems with seeing women fight, and I must admit that I’m not sure if I’m overly comfortable with it myself, this means that Ireland’s most dominant sportsperson, Katie Taylor, will get to strut her stuff on the world’s highest stage. Taylor has won 39 fights in a row, 60 from 61, and was named Women’s Boxer of the Year for 2008. Should she be able to cope with the undoubted pressure thrown her way ahead of the 2012 Games than she will be the hottest favourite for a gold medal, perhaps in any sport. Amhrán de bhFiann should be heard, loud and clear, thanks to her in about three years time.
Today’s other Olympic announcement is also good news in that two new sports are likely to be added to the Games from 2016. Pending approval at the IOC congress in Copenhagen in October, golf and rugby sevens shall both return to the Olympics after long, long absences. Ireland’s golf legacy is well known and the sport is one of our most successful. Aside from three-time Major Champion Padraig Harrington, Ireland has also produced Ryder Cup stars and European Tour winners throughout the years. By 2016 Rory McIlroy is likely to be one of the sport’s biggest stars while people like Graeme McDowell could also have broken through to become legitimate medal contenders. Again, I have issues with the inclusion of golf. I always feel that sports who wish to take part in the Games should pass one test – would winning an Olympic gold medal be the biggest potential prize in your sport? If no, that sport shouldn’t be allowed. It’s one of the reasons that football fails to register in Western Europe, despite it being the world’s most popular sport. For as long as a Green Jacket is more important than a gold medal, and that is likely to remain the case no matter what, golf’s inclusion will never sit easy with me, no matter how successful Ireland may or may not be.
Rugby sevens is a sport that will pass this test. A sport that is played throughout the world, particularly in the Pacific Rim, it has true global appeal and is at that stage where inclusion in the Olympics will be a real boon in it’s strive for growth. As outlined in an article on The Guardian’s website, this decision means that rugby will now be taught in schools in countries such as Russia where Olympic sports are king, and also receive funding in some countries. For Ireland, well we may not be world powerhouses in the sevens version of the game, but it is a sport that is very, very popular here or obvious reasons. A decision like today’s, which means that sevens becomes even more important, could and should see more of a concerted effort being made to allow Ireland’s men and in particular our women, to go for gold from 2016.