Think of your most admired sports people. Say, outside of what would be deemed obvious. With yours truly, the ones most fondly held will be well known to regular readers. The list comprises of some of the best exponents this country has or ever had in GAA and racing and rugby. They are all, however, connected to sports with which this writer would be most closely associated. In terms of thinking ‘outside the box’ regarding the international sports scene and those not known to me personally, thoughts turn to people like golfer Phil Mickelson, cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins and LeBron James from the world of basketball.
Boxing, it would be openly admitted, wouldn’t rank near the very top of the list. Each to their own and all that. Having said that, there are some especial pugilism memories. Such as Steve Collins’ memorable bouts with Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn and successes by numerous Irish boxers and various.
Nowadays, Matt Macklin is to the forefront of those making names for themselves in the ring. What Katie Taylor has achieved in and for the sport supersedes everything and everybody. From the mere fact that she was allowed box at all, to her fight to get the recognition she was entitled to and deserved (not least in terms of being included in the High Performance Programme) and, not least, obviously, her outstanding feats as a sports person in her own right.
Anyway, the reason we’re going this road is that Katie was recently appointed as a sporting ambassador for Ireland. What better one could there be, I hear you say. There’s already similar things happening across the water fronted by the likes of Darren Campbell, Jess Ennis and David Beckham. And it was a scheme well worth starting here.
Katie’s role, basically, will be to attract young people to sport that may not have been otherwise. Doubtless, she has done so already and will continue to, but it’s great to see a formal structure being put in place to ensure the next generation of stars – across the sporting codes – comes along.
In Dunboyne there’s a close affinity with Katie and a deep understanding of her power in an ambassadorial role. For the Bray lady has also given her backing to local charity Aoibheann’s Pink Tie – established by Jimmy and Annmarie Norman in honour of their late daughter. APT provides support to youngsters battling serious illness and their families.
As well as promoting awareness of APT, having somebody like Katie involved is crucial on a different level altogether. Never underestimate the importance of sport in life. It’s not overstretching to say that in some cases (cough!) it makes life worth living. Furthermore, it’s a fairly safe bet that the Olympic golden girl is the most recognisable sports star in Ireland. Thus, she’s the perfect person to spearhead anything helping young people.
Sport can change lives on innumerable levels. From the work being done at levels like that of Inspiration Cycling Club, to the joy – on a personal level – derived from seeing my nieces and nephews – Conor, Niamh, Ciara and Ian do well in sports. Conor and his soccer team have just enjoyed their best season yet, Niamh and Ian have been amassing medals across various sporting codes and – at the times of typing – Ciara’s primary school team await their semi final. All sources of needed and treasured smiles!
That’s the thing, you see, sport has to be enjoyable. To spectators and – more importantly – to those taking part. When the enjoyment goes, sport loses its core value. It stops youngsters from being involved and – to those not already – puts them off wanting to be so.
One of the biggest problems in sport – particularly in terms of influencing younger participants – can be the actions and reactions of adults in attendance. I am not trying to paint myself as whiter than white – far from it – I’ve gone OTT as much as anyone in my time. Maybe it’s only when it’s viewed from a different angle, though, that the impact thereof is fully comprehended.
Recently, one such occasion where unsavoury and unacceptable behaviour took place was learned of. Those partaking therein were bound to have been scarred to some extent by what went on. Hope would be that the strongest possible action will be taken against those involved. Such messiness – and by all accounts it’s going lightly to title it thus – does nothing for sporting enjoyment or influence.
In fact, it has the exact opposite effect. So, those acting to the detriment of the core values of sport need to be clamped down upon swiftly and sternly because negative vibes can often last as long as positive, if they’re let.
Thankfully, though, the good immeasurably outnumber the ‘unhelpful’ in sport. Look no further than Katie Taylor for a shining light of everything that’s good in sport and the good that can come from it.