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The Ryder Cup: Thousands of Irish shut out of live broadcast

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

DUBLIN, Ireland - It can be frustrating to the hard-core American sports fan who visits Europe expecting to keep tabs on the American Big Three: football, baseball and basketball.

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The K Club, site of the 2006 Ryder Cup, in Ireland
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Here in Ireland, they are sports nuts, but that includes just about everything besides American football, baseball and, to a lesser extent, basketball. Try getting a score on Major League Baseball, the NFL or the NBA. They do cover those to an extent, but the coverage is paltry.

Your only solution may be to learn the finer subtleties of hurling, which I have yet to figure out. I've made some headway over the years into cricket, especially when I lived in the Caribbean, but I'll be damned if I can figure out hurling or even "hockey," which is really lacrosse.

The Irish aren't like Americans in their love of sports. They love soccer, of course - interestingly, the newspapers refer to the sport as "soccer," but most everybody else calls it "football" - but they love just about everything else as well, even if thinly veiled as "sport."

Sky Sports, a subsidiary of British Sky Broadcasting Group, is the European version of ESPN. The parent company is the operator of the UK's largest television platform Sky Digital, and is the market leader in the UK with 7.4 million subscribers in the UK and Ireland.

Sky News, considered the UK's most popular 24-hour news service, televises live sports across its five channels, including the 24-hour Sky Sports News. It also has an interest in WWE Wrestling and MUTV, a channel dedicated to Manchester United Football Club

You're likely to see a hodgepodge of everything on Sky Sports, including the Irish Poker Open, filmed before a VIP audience in a top-secret location in Dublin over the Easter weekend. There's also snooker, live darts and, of course, the English Premier League soccer.

The one sport Americans can take heart in seeing extensively here is golf, possibly the only global sport - aside from soccer which has struggled in the U.S. since the unfortunate circumstances when it was invented.

Ireland's landing of the Ryder Cup Matches, to be played in September at the K Club, is a huge deal here. It's expected to be an economic boon for the country and especially the region where it's being hosted.

The Irish are fervent European Ryder Cup fans, particularly since Irish golfers Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke have been members of the last two teams. McGinley made the winning putt at The Belfry in 2002.

Ireland's history has been one of a continuing struggle for ordinary people, so I was a little surprised at the outcome of a brouhaha involving the broadcast of the Matches. Sky owns exclusive rights to the event but there were many Irishmen who called upon the government to broadcast it on state channel RTE so everyone could see it, not just those subscribers to Sky Sports.

The government made an effort to get the event included in what it calls free-to-air, but eventually backed down. Officials of the European Tour applauded the decision, pointing out it would help avoid a protracted legal battle and avoid controversy attached to such an important international event in Ireland, but not everyone was happy.

Former Kerry footballer Jimmy Deenihan told Irish media the government has "failed the Irish people"

"Naturally, there is massive interest here in the event, and it would only be fitting to acknowledge its significance by making television coverage available to everyone in the country," Deenihan said, pointing out Sky is available to only one in five in the country.

There is legislation in place to ensure major events would be broadcast free to the public but the government, in its decision, said the Ryder Cup did not meet all the criteria.

So, what will those Irish left out in the cold do? Easy. Go to a pub that has Sky.

"There is also a danger that young people will be encouraged to spend more time in pubs in order to watch the event," Deenihan said.

RTE will show extensive delayed coverage, and RTE radio will carry it live, but thousands of Irish will be shut out in the biggest international sporting event in their country's history.

I wonder what Michael Collins would have said.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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    DAVE wrote on: May 5, 2006



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