Turning away from Galway’s on-going traffic chaos to the world of sport, rugby union has taken centre stage this week with the World Cup kicking off in New Zealand - 20 nations, having prepared for four years, will compete over six weeks to claim the highest prize in the sport.
It is 24 years since New Zealand co-hosted the inaugural event with Australia. For the Kiwis, so passionate - some may say obsessed - about the game, it has been a long wait. The realisation is that the World Cup - even if, God forbid, the ultimate prize returns to its big brother across the Tasman - will bring other much needed benefits to a country still paying heavily for the natural disaster that wreaked havoc both physically and psychologically on one of its most beautiful cities.
The Rugby World Cup is now established as the third biggest sporting event behind the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup. This week figures released show that New Zealand - three times bigger than Ireland, but with a similar population and more natural resources - could reap a bonus in the region of $14 billion by the end of the decade. The research is the fourth in a series commissioned by MasterCard and undertaken by the Centre for the International Business of Sport at Coventry University, England. Increased tourism, civic sponsorship, and business development resulting from the tournament is estimated to be $1.44 billion.
Economics aside, the sporting event boasts many other attributes, not least is the welcome distraction - entertainment that inspires passion, excitement, and anticipation, that can unite nations and divide loyalties, that can promote nationalistic fervour - sentiments alien to those provoked by two-mile tailbacks at traffic lights. Nelson Mandela said sport had the power to change the world, to inspire, to unite people in a way that little else does. “Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair. Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand.” Significantly of all the sports, rugby has tapped into that psychology. It boasts the most powerful theme song for a sporting occasion - a clever use of double entendre that captures the spirit of international friendship in the worldwide sport of rugby union. "The World in Union," with lyrics by Charlie Skarbek is set to the stately and emotional music from Holst's The Planets.
"Searching for the best in me/
I will find what I can be/
If I win, lose or draw/
It's a victory for all/
It's the world in union/
The world as one/
As we climb to reach our destiny/
A new age has begun/
Here in Galway the recent success in underage hurling has prompted optimism that a "new age" has begun, while Connacht Rugby, Galway’s only professional team sport, is also undergoing a long-awaited renaissance. It is something that needs to be grasped, developed and, crucially, sustained by everyone - not just those interested in rugby and in sport, but the wider community which will also benefit.
It is not that long ago Ireland's rugby administrators wanted rid of the province as a professional entity, and in the intervening period it has taken an amalgam of huffing and puffing, diplomacy, fortitude, and forthrightness to kickstart Connacht Rugby's restoration, albeit sparked by the prospect of Heineken Cup rugby. On the field coach, Eric Elwood is a man recently attributed for putting the "Connacht" back into Connacht Rugby and it is heartening that he has also inspired improved links with the local community.
Last week's first match of the season at a revamped Sportsgound was testament to the new spirit - there was a palpable feeling of renewed optimism, enthusiasm, hope, and pride, both in the jersey and the province. Just as the World Cup evokes a strong sense of national attachment, belonging, and a sense of identity, the resurgence of Connacht Rugby invokes feelings of respect, pride, happiness, and personal worth in our lives. Connacht Rugby is demonstrating that success can be achieved when humans work together, and now it is incumbent on all involved to ensure it is sustained so the community believe it is something worth investing in. Meantime set the alarm on Saturday, don your Irish jersey, and cheer on Declan Kidney’s Ireland. Let’s beat those Australians.