Ireland is a small nation on the fringe of Europe. And yet we always believe that we have the ambition to think big and the ability to punch way above our weight on a world stage.
There are sports in which we do that. The Rugby World Cup Bid is real, our strength in Boxing may ebb and flow but we have genuinely world class competitors. In Horse Racing we are a global powerhouse.
All three are well-established sports in which we have played our part.
This week we welcomed back a team from a World Championships that carried with them no fewer than four gold medals and three silver. Only Britain and Germany of all the nations in Europe won more.
The World Para Athletics Championships attracted 280,000 people over the course of a week of competition at London’s Olympic Stadium. That is more than at any Championship since the Paralympics of 2012 and more than have attended every other edition of the Games in their history, combined.
The exploits of Michael McKillop, Jason Smyth, Noelle Lenihan, Orla Barry and Niamh McCarthy were seen around the world, shown live on Channel Four in the UK, on France TV and CCTV in China and live streamed by NBC across the United States.
In the immediate aftermath of the closing ceremony, the organising committee in London expressed their desire to host the games again in 2019. Next year’s European Championships will take place in Berlin and there is genuine excitement about the impact that Para sport is having in how we treat people who have a physical disability.
Sport doesn’t get much more important than it is in the field of Paralympics.
Ireland is not just a bystander in this surge of optimism and endeavour. The 2018 European Para Swimming Championships will take place at Dublin’s National Aquatic Centre. That plan was hatched in the wake of London 2012 and came to fruition earlier this month.
Failte Ireland, together with Sport Ireland, Swim Ireland and Paralympics Ireland will welcome 500 competitors from 40 countries across the continent to compete in an event that will position Ireland as a strong candidate for the hosting of major events.
It may not be the Olympics, and despite occasional flights of fancy, that monster of a circus will not be landing here in any of our lifetimes but it is sport at the highest level and it’s happening in Ireland.
Prior to London 2012 Paralympic sport was little understood, hardly cared for and a long way from the minds eye of even our insatiable sporting curiosity.
The showreel of highlights from our competing in Beijing four years before amounted to three minutes. With the backing of Allianz, Setanta Sport showed over seventy hours of live coverage from London, and RTÉ Sport picked up the reigns for Rio.
McKillop and Smyth are among the most successful athletes we have ever produced. The roll call of their success at World and Paralympic Championships is staggering, and they are creating a legacy which is attracting ever more young people born or previously feeling different to play sport and for some to a new sense of purpose in their lives.
To listen to Ellen Keane or Niamh McCarthy talk of their lives and the importance of sport to them and those around them brings you as close to the heart of why sport matters as you could ever hope.
We are playing at the top table on and away from the track and the pool and Para Sport is going from strength to strength. Aside from being local backers of the Irish team Allianz have also thrown their weight behind the sport at global level and it is an area, along with that of Women in Sport that is considered globally to offer the best return on investment for brands looking to connect with a diversity agenda through sport.
Paralympics Ireland are understood to be close to signing a number of new commercial deals which will elevate their standing within the world of the business of sport in Ireland. They have a new CEO in Miriam Malone and Chairman in John Fulham that have picked up the baton passed by Liam Harbison and Jimmy Gradwell. They have energy in abundance to fulfil the undoubted potential that is there.
The challenges they need to overcome have always been the long gaps in competition and interest outside the four-year Olympic cycle. That is one which many sports face but if the events of last week in London tell us anything it is that Paralympic sport is growing into itself.
It has always had the capacity to change lives for the better. It is a credit to those who have put in the hard yards that it is now doing so on a bigger stage than ever, and on a stage where Ireland has a leading role to play.
This article was first published in the Sunday Business Post on Sunday, July 31st 2017.