Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Northern Ireland and the Winter Olympics

Footprint in the snowThe 2010 Winter Olympics being held in and around Vancouver are in full swing, the skaters are gliding around the ice, the skiers zipping over the snow and the other sports people doing their thing  in the search of a shiny medal. Its a fine sight, the speed, the balance, the skill and the colour of it all. So although I've never tried many of the sports, I really enjoy watching it. Thankfully the sense of occasion provides a reason for broadcasters to beam to us the footage of these cold sports. Sports that don't regularly compete for our attention the rest of the time. Well at least sports that don't get much airtime here in Northern Ireland. After all, we only have one public skating ice rink and one dry ski slope. So whilst many countries look on with eager anticipation, is there likely to be much local interest in the winter games from the folks in Northern Ireland sat in front of our TVs, radios and computers?

Well I think I can safely say that there isn't the sort of enthusiasm we're likely to see in the summer Olympics in 2 years time when London 2012 kicks off. The time difference of -8 hours between the Canadian West Coast and NI in these games, means if you were wanting to watch many of the events live then it would require being awake in the early hours of the morning. Most of the footage I've seen so far has been highlights. Good highlights though, the opening ceremony was amazing and amongst others I was engrossed by the footage on TV of the Nordic Combined's cross country event, where in final section it resulted in a nail biting sprint finish. Still, the inconvenience with the time difference isn't a good start and to add to it, a lot of the sports from the Winter Olympics don't appear to have much of a following in Northern Ireland. I say that based on the fact that a lot of the sports or activities do not have many or any facilities in place here for people to take part, especially at a competitive level. For instance, take the ice/snow based sports in Northern Ireland with the largest public followings. Without doing a survey, I'm taking for granted that these would be Skiing and Ice Hockey (sorry I know, a lot of assumptions but I can't find any data).

With Skiing, we have no real ski slopes and unlike mainland UK there isn't an indoor ski slope, the closest to the real thing in NI is the dry slope at Craigavon Golf and Ski Centre.  There are a few shops that sell ski and snowboarding equipment throughout NI but the majority who use these shops will put their expensive equipment to use on holidays abroad. It's just not a very accessible sport for those of us who don't have such disposable income. However there does seem to be enough interest to keep specialist shops afloat.

With Ice Hockey, we have a UK Elite League Ice Hockey team – The Belfast Giants. They are quite well supported, according to the Belfast Telegraph as many as 4000 go to some Giants games - a few thousand people have certainly seemed to be at the games I've been lucky enough to make it to. Unfortunately though the Odyssey arena doesn't keep the ice out there for public skating because its a multi-purpose arena. So access to skate, let alone the equipment and availability to learn the competitive sport are limited to one venue, the Dundonald Ice Bowl.

So even with the most popular snow and ice based sports, it would seem there is only a small minority in Northern Ireland who would, at least publicly, show an active interest.

We can look at this from a different angle though: For although the interest seems limited, if we go solely by the fact that these sports have some following here and we take into account that it only snows in Northern Ireland for an average of a few days a year and facilities are few and far between, with access to some of the sports not even available at all in this country, then it might seem to be a good indication that there might be latent interest. Northern Ireland might not be the best location for watching or taking part in snow and ice sport events but I would anticipate that many will be at least curious to watch the best of the best compete in many of the winter sports on offer in Canada this month. It will be interesting to see the viewing figures if and when they are released.

For anyone who does watch, Northern Ireland competes with Scotland, Wales and England as part of team GB but many here will likely be following the fortunes of both the GB and Irish teams and the individuals from those teams taking part. There is however one representative you may want to keep an eye out for if you are hoping for a chance to express some Cool Runnings-like pride towards a local representative performing on the world scale.

Jenna McCorkell, a figure skater from Coleraine, would appear to be Northern Ireland's sole competitor within team GB. She is due to skate on February the 23rd and 25th. I'm not an expert or to be really honest, all that interested in figure skating, but I reckon I'll give it a watch to see how she gets on. Good luck Jenna!

I hope this part makes sense, but I'm also not usually one for partaking in patriotic events or celebrating national pride, but when it comes to sports, the political, cultural and to some degree, monetary issues associated with national divides are somewhat diminished (the same way cup competitions with one off games can throw up surprises). I believe that locality or place of birth is something that will always be able to be used as a means to differentiate sides in sporting competition, even when nation states hopefully go the way of the dodo in favour of what I hope (perhaps naively) might one day become some pleasant form of a united planet. If you follow a sports team you'll probably know what I mean - we support our sides during the game, we have a single purpose, but win or lose, at least for the majority, we're united by the enjoyment of the sport. It's constructive rather than destructive. So a big good luck also to the whole of the Ireland and GB teams.

Personally, for those sports that our local nations are competing in, I'm really looking forward to the Bobsleigh and oddly the Curling (that I really got into at the last Winter Olympics). For those sports without a local Country to cheer on, I'm really looking forward to the Ice Hockey, so ermm “lets go Canada, lets go!”.


  1. My problem with winter sports is that they remind me of winter, and they take place in the winter which is exactly when I want to be reminded of winter the least!

  2. hehe, you've a good point, I guess for anyone who lives in the Southern Hemisphere its usually a welcome break. Our loss is their gain :)



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