4th February 2000
Ireland is suffering serious stadiumitis and it’s making me nervous. The idea that a massive building can exemplify a people is redolent of 1930s fascist ideology when the Nazis built huge roads, statues and monuments and rallied the mob around them.
In our time we seem to be obsessed with symmetry and size; so much so that the endearing chaos of Croke Park’s five stands is reduced to a gigantic horseshoe of repetitive rows of seats and decks.
In news pieces about the GAA the new stand is ever present. The success of the GAA is thought to be represented in the architecture and scale of the new Cusack Stand.
But the fact is that the best part of the GAA happens when two local junior teams meet in a boggy meadow in the hills of Donegal or Wexford. Things are always better on a human scale.
Stadium Ireland, we are told, will enhance the status of sport in Ireland by attracting all the important fixtures. Next door a school of excellence will be built so that the best sportsmen and women in Ireland can can compete with the best in the world.
A couple of dozen players will take the field. 80,000 will watch from the stands. This is the dream of sport on which we will spend £280 million. In this dream, the epitome of our sporting progress, it should be pointed out that 99.96% of the ‘participants’ are not playing.
It seems to me that we’ve lost the plot. Or perhaps the script has been sold to professional sport and a handful of media barons (advertising salesmen) who now decide what the purpose of sport is.
There is a very good case to be made that the past 40 years of professional sport has actually been a contest of chemists. Over the last five years a constant flow of revelations from swimming and athletics has undermined the integrity of sport.
And all because the point of sport is missing. The whole point of sport is to participate, to play and to enjoy it. It is about community spirit and comradeship.
The mass media and professionalism have replaced this with pseudo-sport. So now we have Manchester United where none of the players are from Manchester and where their loyalty lasts until the end of the contract.
But it is a brand leader where the packaging is sold to a huge audience outside and we have bought into it big time. Otherwise sane adults will now say “we won last night” to describe a Man U win. It is a soap opera where everyone knows the plot, the characters and the (nearly guaranteed) happy ending.
Stadium Ireland fits nicely into this scenario. It will be ‘owned’ by corporate Ireland who will buy the boxes and the 10 year seats, despite all the platitudes about the ‘people’.
This will fittingly mark the transfer of sport from the plebs to the patricians in Ireland; the end of the idea that sport is something we do, to being something we buy.
Think of the alternative. We could have 28 £10 million sports complexes around the country giving local access to top class facilities.
If we can afford both then perhaps the National Stadium is a good idea. But it’s not going to happen. That would take a seismic shift in current thinking.
Meanwhile dozens of clubs in Mulhuddart and Blanchardstown have no playing fields. Suddenly there’s 500 acres for a National Stadium. And they can’t have an acre out of the 76 or so at Farmleigh which cost us £23 million. That’s for the VIPs.