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Gold medal for Katie Taylor cost Irish taxpayer close to $400,000

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Katie Taylor captured Ireland's only gold medal
at the London Olympics.
{Photo thanks to Reuters}
Did you see Monday's pictures from Bray, Co Wicklow? Tens of thousands of people gathered to celebrate Katie Taylor's Olympic gold in boxing. There were similar scenes in other Irish hometowns of the country's successful Olympians.

Ireland's national television station, RTE, provided quite a bit of coverage of these events and undoubtedly will provide even more from today's national "homecoming" event in Dublin. Tremendous stuff. These local celebrations and the big one in Dublin cost a bit, but it's only a small sum and what taxpayer would quibble when the public mood is so keen on these celebrations?

Well, maybe me.

Although the truth is I don't have a big problem with these events. The public joy over Katie Taylor's success in her hometown, where I happen to live, is universal. Taylor, or I should say Katie as us locals refer to her, is a source of real pride to the people of Bray. {I'm still not comfortable with women's boxing, but I admire the way she conducts herself as an athlete and as a person.}

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What irks me, however, is the amount of taxpayers' money that goes to pay the athletes Ireland sends to the Olympics.

The Irish government pays €40,000 ($50,000) annually to each of Ireland's elite "high performance" athletes. This year there are 27 such athletes, some of whom actually did well in London and won medals. Katie Taylor is one of the 27 and she has received almost €300,000 ($370,000) in government funding (aka our money) since 2005.

Why? What does the Irish taxpayer get for this investment? After all, our government is bankrupt. Maybe the view is 'what's another few million euros into the vast debt pit in which we find ourselves?'

Don't get me wrong, it's not just Taylor. And at least she won a medal and set up Monday's happy day in Bray. Boxer Paddy Barnes, who got €40,000 this year and has received over €200,000 ($250K) in total, won a bronze and is the toast of Belfast.

Track athletes Olive Loughnane and Derval O'Rourke have received sums similar to Taylor, but neither of them was near a podium finish in London. Clay Pigeon Shooter Derek Burnett has received €270,000 ($330,000) and finished his Olympics in 46th place (I think). David Gillick has received similar money and didn't even make it to London.

There are boxers, cyclists, sailors, canoeists, archers and others receiving government money to compete in their sports. Why? What public benefit do we get for this money?

A crowd of up to 20,000 fans greeted Katie Taylor in her
hometown of Bray, Co Wicklow on Monday.
{Photo thanks to the Irish Times.}
I fully understand what the politicians get from spending our money in this way. They will be indirectly claiming credit for Ireland's Olympic medals, trying to cash in on the feel-good vibe the medal-winners provided. I'm sure they're keen to be seen on the stage in Dublin with the athletes later today. Of course, there will be no shots of any of them with the David Gillicks on the payroll. (And I don't know his story. He could well have been injured, but that only begs further questions as to how the government chooses who to fund, etc.)

The old amateur ideal of the Olympics is long dead. The International Olympics Committee makes a ton of money on the games. Let them pay the athletes who compete. I mean, nobody asks the taxpayer to pay the salaries of those who play in the NFL, NBA or English Premier League.

Besides, Katie Taylor is worth a whole lot more than €40,000 to the IOC. She is a tremendous advertisement for the Olympics. Not only should they pay her, but they should give her a huge raise.

I love sports. I watched a lot of the Olympics and rooted for the Irish competitors. Regardless I don't understand why the public should be so keen to pay the athletes who compete. Are we that desperate to see a medal hanging over a green jersey and the Irish flag flying from a stadium roof?

I'm not. I can endure, even enjoy, an Irish-medals-free Olympics.

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