August 29: Seven not a lucky number for Limerick

Large sums of taxpayers’ money – in the hundreds of thousands – were spent last weekend on a rugby event in Limerick that barely made a ripple.

Large sums of taxpayers’ money – in the hundreds of thousands – were spent last weekend on a rugby event in Limerick that barely made a ripple.

Over two days, the Limerick World Club Sevens – a venture initiated by the Limerick Marketing Company last year in partnership with an international sevens rugby company – attracted a paltry attendance to Thomond Park.

That was a pity, of course, because it had sounded like a good idea at first. But sevens rugby is first and foremost a social event. There was barely a well-known name among the players in action last weekend, no stars to get people through the turnstiles.

All the evidence is that the appetite of the Mid-West public for the event has been found seriously wanting. It was worth a try, you could say.

But sometimes it’s no shame to admit that something isn’t working. You just move on to the next thing and put your efforts into that.

A five-year contract was signed last year for this event which – we are told – can be terminated by either party following “an annual post-event review”. However, it appears that despite the failure of the tournament to attract meaningful attendances for the second consecutive year, the marketing company has every intention of seeing out the remainder of the contract.

That stance must be subjected to serious scrutiny and it begs several questions of Limerick City and County Council, which is responsible for Limerick Marketing Company.

For starters, given that the event was even less successful this year than last, on what basis can it justify not cutting its losses and pulling the plug? And should the money saved not be diverted into marketing campaigns that can deliver real value for Limerick?

This newspaper has a proud track record of getting fully behind events that are good for Limerick. But we also have a duty to hold public officials to account and to question whether the public’s money is being appropriately spent.

We are told by a council spokesman that the return on investment for this very large sum of money consisted of an “annual legacy event which brings visitors to Limerick, building on Limerick’s renowned international sporting reputation”.

When we asked some searching questions about the event this week, the Leader received a lot more of this self-serving drivel. The tournament is also described “an international media platform to promote the Limerick World Sevens event as a legacy event of the 2011 European City of Sport programme”.

Come again?

Just who were these so-called “visitors to Limerick”? Judging by the near empty stands and terraces, the overwhelming majority of them were wearing boots on the famous Thomond Park turf.

Teams from the United States, Canada, Argentina, South Africa, Fiji and France were there. By all accounts, they enjoyed themselves. But why wouldn’t they, when their expenses were covered by the organisers, not least the publicly funded Limerick Marketing Company? Their contribution to the local economy was negligible.

The council spokesman would not disclose – for commercial reasons – the full extent of the financial outlay involved. That does not wash either and elected representatives should make it their business to find out.

They should also be asking if the money could – and should – be better spent.