The Public have Voted…

The problem with public voting is that the public vote can sometimes go in a strange direction. The United States Presidential Election, Britain’s decision on whether to stay in the European Union and the occasional popularity contest involving sporting stars occasionally throw up results that some might say are a touch unexpected.

In a season of awards, these past few days have seen some of the biggest and most prestigious of the year handed out.

On Friday in the Shelbourne Hotel there was a triumph of experience when Jessica Harrington picked up the Irish Times Sportswoman of the Year Award. Warmly welcomed in the room, even among those whom she had pipped at the post, Harrington’s success this year in winning some of the biggest prizes in horse racing including the Cheltenham Gold Cup at the first time of asking, at the age of 70, was deserving of recognition in the wider context.

It proved to be the start of a true winning weekend for the equine sports.

The Manager of the year as selected by the RTÉ Sports Department ahead of the RTÉ Sports Awards on Saturday night was Aidan O’Brien. Again once you look closely at the records he has achieved on a global scale in 2017 and over three decades before that there can be little doubt that this was a deserving award.

It may not have been seen as the right one in the eyes of Cork City fans, or Dublin GAA fans but sport in Ireland has always been a many flavoured feast and awards are there to recognise achievement one step removed from tribal rivalry.

James Maclean walked away with the award as Sports Personality of the Year, marking his popularity among sports fans for a variety of reasons, not least his fiery personality.

The Awards have been running now since 1985 and he joins a long list of illustrious winners dating back to Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche in the early years, through Sonia O’Sullivan and Katie Taylor winning multiple awards and more lately Rory McIlroy and Tony McCoy from North of the border.

Football has never been a great winner of the individual award. In fact, in those 32 years, this is only the third. Packie Bonner won in 1990, and Mick McCarthy in 2001 so MacLean is in a rarefied atmosphere.

Perhaps though the most unexpected result was the Irish Showjumpers winning the Team of the Year Award.

Their achievement in winning Team Gold at the European Championships in Gothenburg this summer was something special and the delight within the sport at their overcoming such rivals as the Dublin Football and Galway Hurling teams was certainly delightful but many were left scratching their heads at whether this was a genuine surge of popular acclaim or a well managed ‘get the vote out.’

If it was the latter then fair play to the team behind the team at mustering support. If those who were giving out on social media and online did not vote themselves then their protestations have an obvious retort.

A major part of sport’s enduring appeal is that the winner is determined by the best performer on a given day or over the course of a season. It can throw up some massive upsets and that’s what keeps it fresh.

We hail our champions for what they have done on the field of play, the track, the pool or the road and when they have won there is a delight, when they lose there is always a sense of getting back there again for another try the next time around.

The winners and the champions come in many forms and all of them deserve recognition for what they have achieved. Saying that one achievement is ‘better’ than another is always going to be subjective and while you can feel for those who did not win, that should not take away from celebrating those who have.

Ronan Murphy, the CEO of Horse Sport Ireland said after the awards that “I want to congratulate Rodrigo Pessoa and the team on a fantastic achievement in winning the RTE Team of the Year Award.”

“It is a fitting accolade following what was a fantastic year for Irish Show Jumping and I want to thank our sponsors, owners, grooms and the HSI High-Performance Committee.”

“This year has given us a great platform as we work towards the 2018 World Equestrian Games and Toyko 2020.”

“I want to pay tribute to our HSI Press Office. We are one of the only National Federations to have a 24/7 press office and they did a fantastic job raising awareness of these awards through our social media on Team Ireland Equestrian.”

“Most importantly I want to thank everyone who took the time to vote for our team and help us win this award. It is great to see this level of engagement from the Irish public with Equestrian Sport and helps to increase participation and future development of The Sport Horse Industry.”

So there you have it, a strong and well-targeted social media campaign that outflanked the fans of the bigger teams and delivered a result which will perhaps matter more to show jumping than it might have to other sports.

And for those who do not agree, well what is the alternative? to give the voting power solely to the media, that would have strengths and weaknesses; to draw lots? That would put fate itself in the fire of the keyboard warriors.

No, the award of a subjective accolade in a world of sport where performance is measured in scores and wins will always be flawed. But if we didn’t have nights like these to create high dudgeon then it would probably mean we didn’t care as much, and that would be far worse.


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