Category Archives: Ability

Inside the arena

During difficult times, in the thick of perceived failures and setbacks turn to Theodore Roosevelt’s….

Man In The Arena

“It is not the critic who counts;

not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,

or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,

whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;

who strives valiantly;

who errs,

who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;

but who does actually strive to do the deeds;

who knows great enthusiasms,

the great devotions;

who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,

and who at the worst,

if he fails,

at least fails while daring greatly,

so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic”, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris April 23, 1910

“…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena..”

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Filed under 1910, Ability, Adversity, Inspirational, Niallism

Character is higher than ability

A person’s lack of ability should not be feared: Ability can be learned.

However, it is strength of mind, overcoming fear – humiliation, or any adversity a person would naturally take flight from – and rebounding, which is much more difficult to foster: Such is the mark of true character, a moral fibre that comes from within.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, Life only really demands a certain temperament from us: Looking adversity straight in the eye, having the backbone to do the thing we think we cannot do, and being able to say to ourselves, “I triumphed over this hard time. With this experience I have gained the strength, guts, and self-belief to face up to the next challenge”.

“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value” ~Albert Einstein

Photographs above: Ireland Basketball team at the Special Olympic Games 2007 in Shanghai

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Filed under Ability, Adversity, Character, Inspirational, Niallism

Two days in January: Guinness, drugs, bar brawls in China, the Gardai (Irish Police), and a roller-coaster

Saturday 10th / Sunday 11th January

Irish and Chinese pub scenes

Last Sunday appears a bit hazy, but now come to think of it, that’s probably due to the four pints of Plain (Guinness) I swallowed the previous Saturday evening with close friend and business partner P at the swank (for Dun Laoghaire at least) setting of Bordega’s Bar −well it used to be when it first opened as the 40 Foot Bar.

We didn’t mention the ‘A’ (Accurate) word once, except to remind ourselves not to mention the ‘A’ word (we’d our thinking caps on all week long planning our line of attack for 2009 and it was now time for a break, let the hair down). More to the point, there were far too many distractions in the Pub, and I’m not referring to the overly cosmeticized peroxide blondes, or the Chinese bar-tenders speaking in a Dublin dialect…. “How’r yah…what’ill yah ave” and the like. Dalian seemed another planet away.  No, the highlight was the barney (argument) between what appeared to be a Concerned Parents Against Drugs parent who over in the far corner of the bar had confronted a peddler of death and destruction, otherwise known as a drug dealer (like their European neighbours, Ireland’s towns and cities are blighted by the scourge of cocaine, heroin, and just about everything else that has caused indescribable misery for so many families). “They were having words”, as we’d say in Dublin, and things were getting a bit heated. Perhaps it was the drink, I initially thought. Nothing too unusual so far until the unremarkable looking parent, a man in his 50s, suddenly pounced on the à la mode dressed dealer, a man in his 20s. All hell broke loose, and fists were flying.

The pub’s brawny, bald and tattooed security people (we call them “bouncers”) excitedly swung into action, burying themselves in the mêlée to the point where it was difficult to make out who was who.  In due course, however, the well-practised bouncers emerged from the fray with three louts and the parent, all of whom were strong-armed from the bar.

[As an aside, I just had a rare ‘Niall deliberation’. At least three additional bar brawls and one street fight have been observed by myself over the years, and all in China…  :

  1. In 1989 I was drinking in a bar, one of those cosy diminutive bars typical of Beijing at the time, which was owned by a local Chinese friend and his English wife. Three sinister looking, thug-like, plain clothes policemen dressed in black leather jackets were seated in a dark corner apparently playing cards. They had been following my friend around for weeks. The Government didn’t like the fact he was becoming quite well-known outside China for expressing opinions they considered to be ‘counter revolutionary’, and they were taking every opportunity to harass him. Imbibing with me were  BW an Irish diplomat, and Didi, a Nigerian diplomat and Didi. Suddenly a full bottle of beer came hurtling through the air smashing against the wall within an inch of Didi’s head. One of the thugs pretending to be swaggered his way to our table: “Hei ren zou ba!” (black man get out!). We left abruptly.
  2. In 2000 I was drinking in a bar in Hangzhou with an Italian friend and two local female friends. A thug at the bar clearly very drunk was taking exception to two local ladies drinking with foreign men. He wobbled over to our table and asked the girls to leave, before cursing them in Chinese. The noisy bar Kana Bar turned eerily quiet. We ignored him, which made him even madder. Eventually, still full of bluster he turned around and headed back to his Russian and American friends gutlessly seated at the bar. We thought the intense stand-off was over, were congratulating ourselves when suddenly a wooden bar stool swished by us before crashing on to someone else’s table, whereupon all hell broke loose. Tables and chairs were flung everywhere… The four of us hide under the table before crawling out the door, untouched. Incidentally, the Russian guy at the bar is one of the most feared people mafia types in Hangzhou, while his American friend runs a bar and language school in Hangzhou.
  3. In 2002 was enjoying the Salsa at Hangzhou’s popular Night and Day when suddenly a large street-level window disintegrated from the force of a street sign post lobbed through it. A fight ensued, and there was a lot of blood… Within five minutes all was over. Apparently, the owner of the bar had fallen out with some local thugs.
  4. Oh and the fight on a street in Suzhou between two women, squealing like injured pigs, pulling hard at each other’s hair and scratching each other with their long nails, and a crowd of onlookers egging them on, nobody brave enough to intervene, least of all myself.

Curiously in all four incidents, not a uniformed policeman in sight. But I digress…]

Meanwhile back in Bordega’s a sense of normality had been restored, not that the tussle had really distracted us:  The pints and the crisps were going down well. We were having too much of craic (as in Irish for “fun” not to be confused with the Crack derivative of heroin) nattering on about our existence when about six members of An Garda Siochana  (the Irish Police) appeared from nowhere.

The Gardai have been a source of public dissatisfaction for years (some would say deservedly so, while others would say the Force shouldn’t be judged on the indiscretions of a few black sheep) on account of past recklessness including bribery, beatings (they were particularly partial to a good old-fashioned riot, especially the anti-Establishment anti-Globalisation protests run by a motley mix of Guevaraesque leftist students, anarchists,  greenies, students,  and other ‘new-age’ thinkers where they could swing their batons at will), doctoring evidence, being a little too close to certain politicians, and bumbling ineptitude.

How times have changed. After this particular Saturday night, no more will I paint all Gardai with the same villain brush, but rather they have earned my wholehearted admiration and respect. Watching them vigorously go about their work with a strong sense of purpose and duty it was clear to me this ‘new look’ Irish police force, dressed in their standard issue anti-stab vests (they don’t carry guns), has learned not only to be politely civil (they now speak clearly enunciated English, as opposed to heavily accented country-speak!!. In the 1980s a UK publication referred to them as akin to thick lumps of red meat from the mountains of Kerry, ape-like), but projects an appearance that is able-bodied, robust and confident, a clear force for the  thugs, who of late seem to gaining the advantage, to reckon with.

They courteously asked several men who they suspected of being involved in the fight to join them outside, while at the scene of the initial argument a Garda was down on all fours minutely searching the floor…. Hopefully, in his haste to defend himself from the irate parent, the ‘merchant of death’ had dropped enough traces of the misery he peddles for the Gardai to take him off the streets for a few years at least.

But really, for what they have to deal with in a daily basis I say “hats off to the Gardai”…which reminds me of the time in my youth when a friend of mind, the worse for wear after a few post international rugby match drinks too many, grabbed the hat off the head of a Garda, and started sprinting down the road.. the Garda gave chase but after about thirty meters was huffing and puffing.  Not anymore.

Still what I actually did on Sunday is still a bit obscure (now blaming the void in my brain on the jet lag)… I remember the delicious dinner of stuffed pork cooked by Mum and the bottle of Romanian red wine.

Investing in an Investor and ‘Cast-iron guarantees”

Ah, another rare ‘Niall deliberation’ has occurred. The call from Tim S, the prospective investor in ‘A’, which brought me to my senses with a thud:

“I talked to three potential investors, and they won’t be putting their money into A unless you can provide them with a cast iron guarantee of a return of investment….  but I consider what you are doing in China to be the future for Ireland”… So says Tim S. who had recently lost his shirt to the tune of €300,000 from investments in AIB, a leading Irish bank tethering on the brink of collapse (I was quick to tell him I’d lost an additional part of my clothing in the hugely over-hyped Marrakech, a memory which still touches a raw-nerve, so we’ll leave that one there).

So the NSP team that is A have put together a solid investment proposal for a business which based on some of the exciting programs coming together at last will see investors being repaid with a nice big interest within 24 months.  I am told by the movers and shakers in Ireland’s investor community that 12 months ago, given the scope for two of the key projects we are working on, and the specific plan to build a strong, stable and well-branded business, we’d have had investors queuing up.

Now the buzz term used by the private investors, venture capitalists, and banks  when turning down an investment proposal or a loan request is there need for a “cast iron guarantee” of return on investment.  Of course this is pure nonsense. Nobody can give a 100% guarantee about anything these days.

The reality is the fear of much worse financial turmoil to come, and no person, company, or bank wants to part with money they already have.  With banks not lending and investors not investing, or, worse, tightening the screws on ordinary people and businesses, they have already loaned to or invested in, there is a burning need for Government to restore confidence by decisively taking the lead in stimulating demand. Alas the half-hearted Irish Government appears like a deer standing in the middle of a dark road dazed by the headlights of an oncoming juggernaut.

Like many people running a small business, Sunday’s sleep was troubling at best: the ‘A’ dream roller-coaster analogy trundles forward at full-speed: front seat passenger (the buck stops with me), white knuckles (hanging on for my dear life, trying to keep my eyes open), massive loop-the-loops (stomach churning highs and lows), followed by huge senses of elation and delight as the roller coaster flattens out and the expected calm returns. Yes, I am looking forward to looking back and telling myself “yes  the journey was hell, but the sense of achievement, having endured and succeeded are much more important than the pain and hardship, which we’ll eventually chalk down to experience”.

18412-desktop-wallpapers-change-your-world

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Filed under Ability, Accurate Group, Adversity, Business, Character, China, Chinese, Damage, Hangzhou, Indifference, Inspirational, Ireland, Language, Pub

Asia Gaelic Games, Manila 1997- Korea’s ‘Kimchi Kickers’

The Kim Chi Kickers of GAAG ’97

It is eleven years ago since I hung up my Gaelic football boots. In point of fact, it’s also eleven years since I first put them on, although I’m having trouble recalling exactly what were on my feet as I played the position of goalkeeper for the Kimchi Kickers, the first team from the Republic of Korea to participate in the Guinness Asia Gaelic Games (GAGG), held at Manila’s salubrious Nomads Sports Club from June 6th to June 8th 1997.

It should come as no surprise that my memories of the occasion are now somewhat fuzzy for it took a team celebration hosted by the Irish Ambassador to Korea two weeks after the event to piece together some semblance of what exactly happened such was the entertainment both on and off the field of play.

From the outset I’d like to let it be known that as our motley squad assembled on the afternoon of June 5th at Seoul’s Kimpo Airport I was very much under the impression I was only accompanying the Kimchi Kickers as one of three official fans (the others being yer man Shay from Unilever, and Yvonne, the wife of Alan Hobbs of Enterprise Ireland/IDA distinction), for I’d never in my life played Gaelic Football (the only preceding Gaelic Athletic Association recollection of note was when as an eight year old being forced to finish a dish of cold cabbage and ham in a dining room festooned by dazzling silver All-Ireland trophies and medals  at the Tralee home of John Joe Sheedy, the Kerry great) and hadn’t a clue about the rules. I’d also never been to the Philippines, and knowing well the band that called themselves the Kimchi Kickers this was one experience I wasn’t going to miss.

Official Poster - Asia Gaelic Games Manila 1997- Korea Kimchi Kickers

I’d also like to let it be known that at a quarter to four the following morning as we all poured ourselves back into the Midtown Hotel lobby, the official GAGG hotel, after an over enthusiastic introduction to Manila’s riotous nightlife, I still hadn’t a clue about the rules. I do recall though one of the more perceptive members of our line-up noting the lobby being very quiet at this time (“all the other teams must be asleep” she noted), that our New Zealand borne goalkeeper was missing, while our star player, Roy, was complaining about a bite on his neck (not of the Mosquito variety) and the need to get some sort of injection.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that one and all had just came together at the airport, were given a rule book, a Kimchi Kicker sports shirt and directed toward the boarding gate. Nothing could be further from the truth. By the time the Kimchi Kickers assembled they were a well and truly oiled team. They (note at this stage I don’t use the word “we”) were comprised of dedicated FAS graduates, Aussie Rules fanatics from down under, in addition to a Canadian and the New Zealand goalkeeper, all of whom had been religiously practicing every Sunday for the previous four or five months. And training conditions were harsh indeed, sure there wasn’t even a decent Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) practice pitch to be found anywhere in Seoul, except those hard asphalt surfaces. And despite some queer looks of puzzlement from the locals as to what sort of ball game was being played by the ginger-haired foreigners with those green tartan hats, the Kimchi Kickers persevered with their training program under the wise, professional, and inspirational guidance of Alan HobbsBritish Airways came in with a bit of sponsorship money, which made possible the fitting out of stylish on-and-off the pitch attire (as in navy blue polo shirts), which, in hindsight, must have been the attraction to join for the Kimchi Kickers’ two secret weapons: Annie from Ireland and Sue from Korea. They’d remain secret until five minutes before the kick-off of the first match when an impassioned argument with the match officials and tournament organisers ensued. Our first win and a first in GAGG history: acceptance of a unisex team that would soon be taking on the might of Singapore Gaelic Athletic Association and Hong Kong Gaelic Athletic Association.

Asia Gaelic Games, Manila 1997- Korea Gaelic Football Team Kimchi Kickers

It was also a committed and confident team raring to go, ready to do Korea proud, that arrived in Manila Airport, where we were bumped into Cathal Friel, a friend from Donegal, on the first leg of a world backpacking trip, who wanted to see for himself what all the commotion was about. While promising he’d be Kimchi Kickers loyal fan #4 it was lightheartedly noted his hiking boots were multipurpose. “You must be joking”, said he.

And so to 8.00am back in the now full of life lobby of the Midtown Hotel, after less than three hours sleep.  In the midst of all the cheery smiles, the hearty mix of Irish county, Australian and many imperceptible accents, the good –natured slagging and banter, as old friendships and bonds were rekindled among Gaels from Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Thailand, Malaysia and Korea, I had the first spine-tingling moment of many I’d experience over the next two days:  Despite the euphoria and the sense of occasion everyone had a single-mindedness. They were here to emulate the spirit of Derek Brady and bring back the Trophy bearing his name to their respective country of temporary exile. It was a great moment to be Irish.

With the outside temperature hitting a sweltering 35 degrees Celsius, by the time we boarded the coach to drive us to the tournament venue we were already covered with sweat. However, it wasn’t just the heat that was concerning the Kimchi Kickers. Our New Zealand goalkeeper wasn’t exactly of sound mind having just returned from a night on the town absolutely the worst for wear.

“But Niall all you need to do is stand there and keep your eyes focused on the ball, we’ll do the rest”.

“But I don’t know the rules”, my second spine-quivering moment.

“We’ll explain”, said the girls, and in one of those “and the way she might look at you” Sally O’Brien moments I was in as goalkeeper for the Kimchi Kickers.

The girls produced a ridiculous looking pair of Nomads Sports Club black shorts, with an outlandish green goalkeeper’s hat, while someone else produced a pair of white runners. I was ready.

We were ready and as we ran out onto the park for our first game the only words ringing in my mind were the conundrum “carry the ball three steps, drop and toe-kick back into the hands, repeat when you’re running up the pitch and then hand-pass”.  I recall we got off to the best start possible. Team Malaysia, our first opponents, had decided they could make their own way to the venue by taxi only to become lost in transit.

For the next two days we ran our hearts out… It was absolutely brilliant.

Asia Gaelic Games, Manila 1997 Korea Gaelic Football Team Kimchi Kickers

Even now I can visualise the stifling heat, bottles of water flying all over the place, newly recruited belisha beacon-like Cathal Friel running around the pitch in his hiking boots, the two girls scaring the living bejesus out of the opposition through their high-pitched screeching and other choice weapons of mass destruction, and the strong presence and savvy footballing skills of Colin, Ray and Alan.  All helped to win the big-hearted crowd over to our underdog status.  The personal high for me on the field of play though was the draw with Singapore and my match saving tackle on their leading light. I just remember telling myself he wasn’t going to get past me, closing my eyes and running in his direction. He didn’t and the ensuing crunch hurt a lot, yet the adrenalin rush from hearing the crowd show their appreciation while my fellow Kimchi Kickers patted me on the back had me up in a jig running back to protect our goal, ready for more of the same.

In the end the Kimchi Kickers lost a few games, won one or two. However, the results didn’t matter. What mattered was the courage, dedication, loyalty to team mates, the desire to win, the humbleness in victory, and dignity in defeat that each and every participant confirmed to be the true unique spirit of the Guinness Asia Gaelic Games.

Asia Gaelic Games, Manila 1997- Korea Gaelic Football Team Kimchi Kickers - Man of the match player of tournament Medal

When it was announced I had been voted the Aer Rianta Player of the Tournament / Man of the Match, another spine-tingling moment, I felt truly humbled, an honour I am still very proud of to this day (a very useful piece of GAA metal to highlight in my CV). The post-tournament celebrations and the camaraderie were equally amazing.”

This personal recollection was written by myself — The Goalkeeper — for the Gaelic Games Association Asian County Board website. It is posted here: 

http://www.asiancountyboard.com/tournaments/asian-gaelic-games-2013/asian-gaelic-games-1996-2011/196-personal-stories

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Filed under 1997, Ability, Gaelic Football, Inspirational, Korea, Philippines, Sport

Words matter: Mentally retarded or human gift? Looking back at the 12th Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai

Growing up in 1970s and early 1980s Ireland I remember the labels “mentally retarded”, “mongolian”, “mongol” and “mongoloid” being used in casual conversations when referring to people with intellectual disabilities, or Down Syndrome. I plead guilty to pronouncing such stereotypes. By condoning or even saying such humiliating remarks, unknowingly I was in effect robbing people with intellectual disabilities of their individuality and dignity.

Such degrading descriptions of people with intellectual disabilities have been cultivated over many years:

  • P.M. Duncan noted in 1866 a girl “with a small round head, Chinese looking eyes, projecting a large tongue who only knew a few words” in ‘A manual for the classification, training and education of the feeble-minded, imbecile and idiotic. London: Longmans, Green & Co.
  • John Langdon H. Down (1828-1896), an Edinburgh physician, published in 1866 the first clinical description of individuals with Down Syndrome that bears his name in the landmark paper, ‘Observations on ethnic classifications of idiots’.
  • Benjamin Spock suggests in ‘Baby and Child Care (1946)’ that babies born mongoloid should immediately be institutionalized based on the premise that “If (the infant) merely exists at a level that is hardly human, it is much better for the other children and the parents to have him cared for elsewhere“.
  • The theologian Joseph Fletcher attempting to comfort a bereaved parent, concludes in 1968 that there is “no reason to feel guilty about putting a Down syndrome baby away, whether it’s ‘put away’ in the sense of hidden in a sanitarium or in a more responsible lethal sense. It is sad, yes. Dreadful. But it carries no guilt. True guilt arises only from an offense against a person, and a Down’s is not a person.

Words matter!

Imbecile, idiotic, hardly human, retarded, not a person..?  No way!

Why the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games contestant will never match the spirit, resolve and strength of mind of the Shanghai 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games athlete?

Held in Shanghai from October 2nd to October 11th, my colleague and I attended the Games as volunteers hoping to be of some assistance to the 151 member Irish team, their euphoric family members and the 200 volunteers who had fund-raised over €1,000,000 for Special Olympics Ireland.

Looking back on that week I can honestly express it as one of the most heartening, and touching experiences of my life.

Vivid memories:

  • … The ‘Team Ireland’ hotel, the Equatorial. If I hadn’t of known about the Special Olympics I would be forgiven for thinking I had by chance walked into the Shanghai leg of the world’s most famous rock group on tour. The atmosphere in the lobby was electric, noisy and very cheery. And who was making all the clatter? The families of the Irish athletes. Hundreds of family members and volunteers had flown in from all over Ireland, Australia, New Zealand to support their Ruth Gribbon and Pauline Rush in Bocce, James in the Basketball, and Sarah in the Athletics.
  •   … The spectacular Opening Ceremony wasn’t just about huge fireworks displays, and appearances by celebrities Jackie Chan, Colm Farrell, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as Shanghai, with the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games less than twelve months away, sought to display its organisational prowess. The true symbolism of the night was the picture beamed to almost every household in China of President Hu Jintao hugging and playing with Down Syndrome children. 
  • … The scenes of jubilation after Ireland’s basketball team at 4 points versus India’s 18 slam dunked to go to 7…. It was as if they’d just scored the winning point in the world cup final. Spine chilling and poignant indeed…. Such jubilation… Yep, that’s what sport is all about. They were having fun no matter what the score was.
  • … The barefooted 1,500 metres athlete #9, running in the yellow colours of Tanzania, who literally danced around the outside lane of Shanghai’s Olympic Stadium and then stopped to wait for his fellow competitors to catch up with him. When he finally crossed the line in first he just kept running, enjoying himself immensely as stewards and minders tried to catch up with him…
  •  …“I know I can”. First or last it didn’t matter, all the athletes finished walking or running around this 400 metres Olympics track. Their single-minded focusr on crossing the finish line, and competitive it was. Team Ireland’s Sarah, #4 in the women’s 1,500 metre walk, briskly walked around the track as if she was going for a breath of air with her dog such was her look of she enjoyment. Not one of the athletes dropped out.  It was a sight to behold, never to be forgotten.
  • … Making friends: A Danish athlete swapping badge pins with her Irish athlete counterpart, spur-of-the-moment stuff. This was their stage and they were thoroughly enjoying it.
  • … The devotion and enthusiasm of each Chinese volunteer assigned to an athlete as a minder. The clearly genuine amity between the two for me really captured the power of the Special Olympics spirit. Despite the enormous challenge of convincing China’s populace at large that the intellectually disabled are able to lead a happy life and contribute to society these volunteers in my mind have really shown the way.

And so much more…..

For anyone who has never been to one of these momentous events, it is worth the time and effort to appreciate the extent of human potential and to recognise that each unique human gift has a place in society.

Words matter!

Witnessing the social and cultural transformation of the underserved and often marginalised intellectually disabled as I did at the Games in Shanghai certainly made me feel ashamed, very ashamed.

Imbecile, idiotic, hardly human, retarded, not a person..?  No way!

Appreciating the value and importance of including people with intellectual disabilities into all aspects of life, I look forward to the next Special Olympics World Summer Games, which will be held in Athens in 2011.

[Note: The previous 11th Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Dublin, Ireland, in 2003 was mired in controversy even before the Opening Ceremony following the Irish Government’s banning of the Team Hong Kong’s participation due to worries about SARS. An outraged Niall O’Reilly decides to write two letters highlighting the Irish Government irrational and hypocritical decision…. To read more click: https://nialljoreilly.com/2007/09/21/special-olympics-world-summer-games-shanghai-october-2-11-2007/ ]

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Filed under 2007, Ability, Character, China, Inspirational, Ireland, Love, Shanghai, tolerance

Special Olympics World Summer Games Euphoria – From Dublin 2003 to Shanghai 2007

Wow! It’s already over four years since the last Special Olympics World Summer Games were hosted Dublin. It was the largest sports event ever hosted in Ireland.

From 2nd to 11th October the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games will be hosted by Shanghai [http://www.2007specialolympics.com], the first of the three Olympic Games to be staged in China over the next 14 months, including the Summer Olympics and the Paralympic Games to be held next Summer in Beijing.

Unlike now, the days before the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2003 in Dublin were mired in controversy. At the time both Hong Kong and China were affected by the outbreak of the illness known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Irish Government fearful of SARS spreading to Ireland decided to ban the Hong Kong Special Olympics team from traveling to Ireland to compete at the Games. There was outrage in Hong Kong with protests outside the office of the Honorary Consul of Ireland. For me what was particular odious about this decision was the fact that business men and women were still allowed to freely travel to Ireland.

In Ireland on the radio, television and in the newspapers there was intense debate about the Irish Government’s decision. Living and working in Hong Kong there was a palpable sense of outage amongst the Irish community. Something had to be done. I decided to write two letters. The first which was published on 6th June, was to the Irish Examiner newspaper, while the second letter was to Chairman of the Organising Committee, Mr. Denis O’Brien (who was also an investor in the company I was working for at the time).

Irish Examiner Newpaper

Friday 6th June, 2003

 “Hong Kong’s special athletes hit by a peculiar Irish infection”

I WRITE in response to the latest “final” June 4 decision of the Department of Health and Children’s expert group on SARS and the Special Olympics to maintain its ban on Hong Kong’s disabled athletes travelling to Ireland, thus depriving them of the chance to attend what likely would be the most thrilling event in their lives.

This illogical decision comes after a period of unprecedented high-level dialogue between senior Hong Kong government officials and Irish medical experts in which the Hong Kong side sought to articulate a clearer understanding of the situation and the extra efforts that it would make to guarantee the health of its athletes before departure.

It is almost two weeks since the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced the lifting of its travel advisory against Hong Kong, noting that SARS outbreaks had been contained, which is not much different to its observations regarding the status of Canada and mainland China.

In fact, all new SARS cases confirmed in Hong Kong over the past month (an average of fewer than five cases per day compared to upwards of 60 daily at the end of March) have occurred in people who were already identified as contacts of a person with SARS and under active surveillance by the local health authorities.

None of the Hong Kong Special Olympics athletes hoping to travel to Ireland has had contact with any SARS patients, or any suspected cases.

The WHO has highly commended Hong Kong’s transparency and aggressive Hong Kong Special Olympics procedures.

All close contacts of known SARS cases are quarantined at home.

In addition, their Hong Kong ID numbers are passed to the immigration department to ensure that they cannot leave the territory.

Since the implementation of these rigorous exit-screening procedures at border checkpoints, which also include mandatory temperature checking of all outbound travellers, there have been no reports of internationally exported cases of SARS from Hong Kong.

What is more, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended against cancelling or postponing gatherings that will include people travelling to the US from areas with SARS, and the quarantine of persons arriving from SARS-affected areas who have shown no fever or respiratory symptoms.

As such, over the past fortnight Hong Kong exhibitors have been welcomed to the Las Vegas Jewellery Fair and the Cannes Film Festival as a result of the precautionary measures that the exhibitors had undertaken voluntarily.

And yet, it is against such transparency that Ireland still maintains its travel ban depriving athletes, some of whom have trained for up to eight years and whose team won 53 gold medals at the last Special Olympics, their chance to be the pride of Hong Kong.

Remarkably, no such travel ban has been imposed on other travellers from Hong Kong seeking entry to Ireland.

This ‘final’ decision appears not only irrational, but also hypocritical, given the latest guidelines conveniently lifting the travel ban on athletes from cities and regions where local transmission of SARS has not been reported, meaning that the Special Olympic Games will not be devoid of two of the largest participating teams, Canada and China.

It demonstrates that the Department of Health and Children has chosen not to follow the WHO‘s advice and made a decision without due regard to the precautionary measures that the Hong Kong Special Olympics Committee had proposed to take before their departure for the games.

The official flag presentation ceremony for the Hong Kong Special Olympics team is set to take place here on June 8, an event supported by The Hong Kong Gaelic Athletic Association, the St Patrick’s Society of Hong Kong, the Irish Business Forum and Enterprise Ireland.

It is the fervent wish of the Irish community in Hong Kong that the Irish government remove this unnecessary travel ban.

Niall O’Reilly,

15, Mosque Street,

Mid-Levels,

Hong Kong.

[Source: This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Friday, June 06, 2003 

http://www.irishexaminer.com/archives/2003/0606/ireland/hong-kongaposs-special-athletes-hit-by-a-peculiar-irish-infection-983257838.html]

The about-turn was remarkable.

Three days before the Opening Ceremony in Dublin, without prior notice, at 3.00 am I was awaken by the loud ringing sound of my telephone.  On the other end of the line was Denis O’Brien excitedly describing the excellent news that the Irish Government had decided to lift its travel ban and that the special athletes from Hong Kong were free to travel to Ireland. Denis O’Brien also offered to send his private jet to collect the Hong Kong team from London.

The Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin were a wonderful success, and I have heard from several people who were lucky enough to attend, the Opening Ceremony or witness it television that one of the most emotional memories of the evening was the arrival in the Croke Park stadium of the Hong Kong team when the packed house of 80,000 people stood up to cheer them these very special athletes. 

For me the abiding memory that will stay with me is being invited to represent the Irish Community of Hong Kong at the welcome home ceremony for the successful Hong Kong team. The sparkling smiles on the faces of the Hong Kong Special Olympics athletes, bedecked with gleaming gold and silver medals, will always stay in my mind.

“On June 19, I had the privilege of carrying the Olympic Torch – or Flame of Hope as it is called – and leading the Final Leg Torch Run team into Clonmel. Clonmel is a town of about 25,000 people and I would estimate that about half were on the streets to greet us. I have never seen so many Hong Kong flags in my life. They flew from the rooftops, from the buildings, from the churches and from the hands of thousands of people on the streets. And everyone was shouting Hong Kong! Hong Kong! at the tops of their voices.

“We ran into the town square where the Lord Mayor was present to greet us. I handed over the Flame of Hope. The Mayor took me to one side and told me that the Hong Kong team had not arrived. They were still in Macao under quarantine for SARS.

“To have run so far (over 200 miles) and not see the Hong Kong team was heartbreaking. I am not ashamed to say that I fell to my knees and wept.

“However, the Mayor told me that the Hong Kong team would be arriving in Dublin the following day and that a delegation from Clonmel would go to meet and welcome them. On the evening of June 21, we carried the Flame of Hope into Croke Park, Dublin, for the start of the games.

“The Special Olympics teams then marched into Croke Park in alphabetical order. I heard the master of ceremonies say “And now I see a particular team coming into the stadium. This is a team that we thought we would never see. But now they are here and we are so pleased to see them. Give a big, big welcome for Hong Kong!” About 85,000 people stood up and at the tops of their voices shouted: Hong Kong! Hong Kong! The noise was unbelievable! But it was obviously inspiring Ñ the Hong Kong Special Olympics team won 31 medals at this year’s games.

“I had a wonderful career with the Hong Kong Police Force and have had a wonderful life. But nothing in my experience is likely to top the emotion that I felt running for Hong Kong on the Law Enforcement Final Leg Torch Run.”

Source: Mr Peter Halliday, former Assistant Commissioner (Information Systems), Hong Kong Police Force helped carry the Special Olympics Games torch from Athens to Dublin http://www.police.gov.hk/offbeat/757/eng/s01.htm

"Special Olympics has not only given me the opportunity to compete, but also the confidence to compete. I am very proud of my accomplishments, and where else would I get to travel around the world?" (Source: Mei-Yu Lau - http://couch-gymnast.blogspot.com.es/2008/11/cartwheels-in_21.html ]

Gymnast Mei-Yu Lau, Team Hong Kong, on the vault at the 2003 Special Olympics Summer Games in Dublin: “Special Olympics has not only given me the opportunity to compete, but also the confidence to compete. I am very proud of my accomplishments, and where else would I get to travel around the world?”                                (Source: Mei-Yu Lau – http://couch-gymnast.blogspot.com.es/2008/11/cartwheels-in_21.html )

And so fast forward to late next week when a delegation of 1,000 Irish Special Olympians and their families will arrive in Shanghai to participate in the Special Olympics World Summer Games, 2007. Let the Games begin!

[Note: Special Olympics is an international non-profit organization dedicated to helping individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition]

Note: My review of the Special Olympics World Summer Games, 2000, in Shanghai  ‘Words matter: Mentally retarded or human gift? Looking back at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai’ is posted here: 

https://nialljoreilly.com/2007/11/08/words-matter-mentally-retarded-or-human-gift-looking-back-at-the-special-olympics-world-summer-games-in-shanghai/ ]

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