September 17, 2021
News Opinion Sport

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Forget rafting, we need to build a cycle track

The extravagant plan for a whitewater rafting centre in Dublin appears to have sunk beneath its machine-made waves. And good riddance to that.

But the derision poured on this one rather mad scheme should not rule out the idea of building a major sports centre in our capital city’s docklands.

The proposed site at George’s Dock is a bit of an eyesore and a waste of good space. Filling that space with a sports centre makes sense, but it needs to be for a sport that is more popular and less exclusive than whitewater rafting.

We should build a velodrome there. It would be a reward for the achievements of our cyclists at the Olympic and Paralympic Games and encouragement for a sport that is growing in popularity.

Irish cyclists have always been good at road racing but their ability to compete at the highest level on the track is nothing short of amazing, since we don’t have any tracks. There is not a single indoor velodrome on the island of Ireland and our top cyclists have to train in Spain.

Irish cyclists could always compete on the roads for the simple reason that the sport requires almost no government support. Given a bike, and an awful lot of courage and determination, our athletes are at no disadvantage when taking on the world in the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia.

We have excelled at other low-cost sports: cross-country running, for instance, and boxing. We have always won medals for boxing. It does not require expensive facilities, which is  just as well, for nobody ever offered to provide them. It has flourished in small clubs, supported by local communities and sustained by people who passed on their knowledge to produce some of the world’s best coaches.
Ireland has also produced world-beaters at sports which are self-financing, such as horse racing and golf.

But some international sports simply cannot produce successful competitors unless taxpayers’ money is spent on them.

Swimming, for instance. Until 20 years ago, Ireland did not have a single Olympic-grade swimming pool and so, with the dubious exception of Michelle Smith, we produced no Olympic-standard swimmers.

But, as the great Field of Dreams movie told us, if you build it they will come. The State provided the pools and now Ireland has swimmers and divers who can compete at the highest level, including a Paralympian who struck gold.

The great thing about good swimming pools is that they are not only for elite athletes,  everyone is able to use and enjoy them. The same would go for a velodrome. And also, while I’m in the realm of dreams, for an ice rink.

It seems extraordinary that top skaters from this side of the border have to go to Belfast to train. And strange, too, that no commercial interest has catered for what is a popular leisure pursuit, judging by the success of the temporary rinks that pop up around Christmas.

Temporary rinks have flourished in many parts of the country and there is no reason why facilities for skating, or any other sport, should necessarily go to Dublin.

Kilkenny could host the national skating rink, Cork the velodrome. Limerick, with its excellent university facilities, could provide a base for either sport.

But I started this piece with consideration of what might fill the hole in Dublin’s dockland. So let me end with a modest proposal, that government and the local authorities work with private investors  to build both a velodrome and an ice rink at George’s Dock.

We could call it the National Ice & Cycling Emporium, which is a ridiculous name but a great acronym. If you spell it, it will come.

 

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