Un-event-full Ireland – Part 2

I finished last time with not one, but two working examples of public-private partnership that are currently in profit and boosting both the coffers of public and private enterprise, as well as giving back to the community.

I failed to mention, in relation to Turkey, that the Government nailed Government or semi-state companies into supporting minority sports, programmes and events. While Turkish Airlines has gone a bit OTT with Kobe and Leo, they at least have gone full out to lay down a marker.

 

Back in Ireland, we have the Government and their media lackeys telling us how great a deal it’d be to flog off Aer Lingus! Same as our phone company, water services etc. And the man they’ve rolled out to do this ties into the next sorry tale of Irish Government mandarin shortsightedness and greed.

I was at school with Pascal Donohoe in Blanchardstown. He was a year behind me and his family lived close to us in Corduff, even learning to ride bikes together in Corduff Park (next to the Fairy Fort). Thirty years later my Mam still gives updates from his family.

I feel sorry for Pascal, mainly for being in politics, but also because he is in a truly helpless position. He has been failed by his predecessor, also from our neck of the woods, also known to us both but a wee bit younger. While Pascal is in a thankless position, Leo Varadkar came with a silver spoon and little else.

And here is an example of how an Irish Government Minister dropped the ball, on one of the biggest world sports stages.

It’s springtime in Ireland, 2011. Continuing the success of our Russian tennis pro, Marta Sirtokina, who used an intensive training camp in DCU to turnaround a career that had been tottering along, we sent the most difficult of our stable to Dublin to get her career back on track.

Vitalia Diatchenko was touted a a star of the future, four years earlier, but this Anna Kournikova wannabe had gone way off the rails. Niggling injuries, poor coaching, mental issues and many more factors had been weighing her down. From diet to focus to game plan to serving, she was a one woman version of Roddy Collins’ Ragball Rovers example. Nothing and everything at the same time.

Making a working holiday of it in Germany, I met her in Stuttgart and gave her tickets, hotel booking and contact information. She went to Dublin and began to build herself up. From going 4-12 in her previous 16 matches, she suddenly turned it around and went 12-4, including making the final round of qualifying in Roland Garros and, shock of shocks, qualifying for the Wimbledon main draw and taking Daniela Hantuchova to three sets. And it is SW19 that is the centre of this example.

As well as getting private sponsors for our players, we also got media exposure. At the same time we contacted the relevant Government Agencies and Departments to keep them up to date. Our goal was to have Ireland as a training/development base for our players (both pro and junior) and we had the blessing of both Tennis Ireland, Fitzwilliam and other clubs (for example Donnybrook).

Cutting to the point, we made the offer to Leo’s office – “Slap the tourism logo on our players’ shoulders, for free, just do a few media opps and remember us.” My colleagues (and players) wanted to slit my throat as I was effectively slitting ours. We would pick up anywhere from $1000 to $5000 for a patch on a dress/shoulder for each match in a Grand Slam – and we’d be getting 20% of this. At the time we had five players at Grand Slam level.

With each match won in qualifying, my colleagues and I got onto the Department of Tourism, Transport and Sport. Then, when Vitalia AND Conor Niland both qualified, and our coach Garry Cahill was at Wimbledon, I personally begged just to allow the players stick on the patches we’d already made! The answer: “Sure tennis is not a big sport in Ireland. Who’s going to pay attention to it? Where’s the benefit?” said Leo.

Nobody would pay attention…in Ireland! With Conor Niland rocking the place on live TV and winning views and hearts around the world. With Vitalia coming so close (serving for the match) to knocking off one of the tennis names and “beauties” on live TV. Millions watching and reading around the world, yet the person(s) tasked with formulating strategy and plans for sports and sports events in Ireland don’t see the benefit.

 

And on it goes. Did you know that in 2004 Ollie Byrne offered Seamus Brennan a chance to “advertise Ireland” before the Reykjavik away tie? And was turned down. He told me this sitting in the Solaris Hotel in Sibenik and I kind of didn’t believe him. I asked a club backer, John Delamere, if this was true and he said yes. I wondered if Finbarr Flood had somehow been part of the initiative.

Given the run and exposure Shelbourne went on that year, I always figured it was a chance lost for Ireland. However, it ties in with my own dealings with the Irish tourism authorities who thought Spartak Moscow not interesting enough to facilitate for a training camp in Ireland.

The same Spartak Moscow who (in 2013) took 2000 fans with them to a training camp were not interesting enough for Ireland in February. Three League of Ireland clubs begged to differ and were ready to play friendlies, yet the final pieces – small financial (€8500), media and visa support – were a step too far.

Three glamour friendlies, a minimum of 500 fans, 30 players and 20 officials, two Russian TV crews and more than 15 media, in Ireland, in February. And remember, this was Spartak Moscow with Aiden McGeady playing a lead role! Spartak who had lost 2-3 in Barcelona, beaten Benfica 2-1 and been unlucky not to draw twice with Glasgow Celtic in the Champions league Group Stage. I was informed by email that “soccer is not a target audience for Irish tourism”. At the time I printed out the mail and stuck it on the office wall.

I gave up worrying about being a patriot and instead concentrated on making money from countries who actually had a plan, or wanted one. To date, Ireland has done nothing to move this forward. Sports, sports events and sportspeople are still left to their own devices.

In very, very rare cases the Government gets involved – Rugby World Cup, Emerald Classic, Euro 2020, though the thread can be seen in each. Prestige and minimal effort, but what does this do for Irish sports and sports people, and sustainable annual/monthly/weekly events? How do we combine good business and offer opportunities for our sportspeople at the same time?

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian based sports journalist and consultant, working with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports FM in Moscow, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and commentated at the FIFA World Cup 2018.

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