Celebrating Cultures, Promoting Integration
Alexandre Beretta-O’Reilly (26) was born in France to a French mother and a half French, half Irish father. His father secured Irish Nationality for Alexandre and his brothers, to ensure a long lasting feeling of Irishness and a constant connection with his Irish blood. Alexandre’s routes are in County Cavan – his paternal grandmother’s home county. The Beretta-O’Reilly’s visit Cavan every year.
Alexandre represents Ireland in rollerblading and ice skating.
Sport in Ireland
We in Ireland pride ourselves on our sporting prowess. We revel in victories – no matter how small – as we console ourselves with the reassurance that “Ah, sure we punch above our weight for such a small country.” There are two stages of being a sports fan in Ireland: we either break our collective arm patting ourselves on the back; or bemoan each and every defeat as if it were the last time we’d ever play the offending sport.
In many ways, sport is the bedrock of Irish society. Every town and village across the 32 counties has, at the very least, one GAA club, as the children and teenagers of the community come together to allow their parent’s to vicariously live out their dreams of football, hurling or camogie superstardom.
We are in a constant state of flux between having a good football (soccer) team or a good rugby team – but never the twain shall meet. Once in a while, one will dare to stick their head above water and give the nation an unrealistic expectation of what may come – but ultimately never does. This can come in the form of the football team getting out of their group at the Euros or World Cup, or more recently, the rugby team winning a few 6 Nations and heading to the World Cup ranked number 1 in their version of the world – only to crash out at the same stage as every previous generation.
There are several notable sports men and women who excel in individual sports, flying the flag of our tiny island with immense pride and reaching the top of their field – before the inevitable, crippling pressure. Golf, boxing, snooker, horse racing, athletics and water sports are all fine examples. But while the more “traditional” sports continue to grow, Ireland has been slow to embrace new sports. Sports that have been emerging across the globe over the past three decades. Sports that 20 years ago we’d only ever see in the wee hours of the morning on EuroSport have now become commonplace on BT and Sky.
The popularity of these sports is evident with the new additions set for the COVID-postponed Tokyo Olympics. For the first time ever, we will see athletes compete in surfing, sport climbing, and skateboarding – as well as the addition of two of Japan’s most popular sports, karate and baseball. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) called this “a historic step in bringing the Games to young people and reflecting the trend of urbanisation of sport.” The trend will continue in 2024 when breakdancing becomes an Olympic sport.
Ireland has a rich and storied history at the Summer Olympics. The country has been part of all but one of the games, boycotting Berlin 1936. From the inaugural games in 1896 until Antwerp 1920, Ireland competed under the umbrella of Britain, but has been represented as an independent nation since Paris 1924. Ireland consistently sends dozens of athletes to the summer games (between 40 and 80), regularly bringing home a modest but respectable medal haul (9 Gold; 10 Silver; 12 Bronze).
Conversely, Ireland did not participate at the Winter Olympics until 1992, almost seventy years after the inaugural games. Mostly due to our climate and the lack of funding, Ireland has never excelled at the Winter Olympics, competing at just seven games, never sending more than six athletes, and never winning a single medal.
Enter Alexandre Beretta-O’Reilly.
“I was a sporty kid growing up,” Alex tells me. “I was playing tennis and table tennis in competitions, and some football with friends as well. When I was a kid, my mum used to teach me how to rollerblade in the street, just as another sport. I was rollerblading every day of my life, until one day, I just stopped.”
“Then, years later at high school, I bought my first pair of skates since I was a child; at first, just because I thought it was cool, because nobody does it anymore – and of course because I love the feeling.”
“I grew up in Paris and then moved to Lyon for my studies. One day I was just hanging around in the streets of the city and by complete luck I found myself in front of a skate cross event. I was completely struck about how cool the people doing it were, and the following year, without any training, I just registered to enter the 2015 competition and that’s how the fever began.”
“After three years of training and competitions, I had risen to 9th in the 2018 WSX (World Skate Cross) Series world rankings. I qualified for the WSX finals Shanghai in August 2021 and for the World Roller Games in Buenos Aires in July, 2021.”
“In June 2018, during a (rollerblading) contest in Barcelona, I found myself chatting with 2 girls competing in the race,” Alex says with his trademark cheeky grin. “They told me about attending the prestigious Red Bull Ice Cross World Tour; so I bought all the equipment in July and registered for my first race in January 2019.”
Alexandre finished his first season (2019) ranked 310th in the world and finished his second season (2020) ranked 123rd. For obvious reasons, the 2021 World Tour, which was scheduled to be held across Austria, Italy, Finland and France, has been postponed indefinitely.
Alexandre tells me he loves the Red Bull ice skating environment: “People are so nice to each other. When I started, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but so many took me under their wing and showed me the ropes. They were excited that I was representing Ireland – those people want to grow the sport they love and always try to help new athletes from (emerging) countries.”
When pressed on why he chose to represent Ireland over his native France, Alexandre explains that it was more than just loyalty to his Granny in Cavan. “It was strategy,” he said. “It is very difficult to become ranked to even qualify for events, because so many top competitors are French.”
“These kinds of sports (X-Games and winter sports) are always trying to grow and always looking for new athletes from new countries. I noticed that Ireland has very little representatives in these sports so I saw an opportunity for myself and for our beautiful country.”
These competitions have ‘wildcards’ for new athletes and new countries. It’s two per country and since Ireland usually isn’t represented by anyone else, Alexandre often gets to use both. This has helped him qualify for a lot more tournaments and climb the world rankings much faster.
“I am aiming for the 2026 Winter Olympics (in Milan), but it isn’t cheap. To practice ice skating, you need an infrastructure or to live in a really cold place – which I don’t want to do,” he laughs. “Last year I had to refuse entry in the Tokyo leg of the tour because it was so expensive. I’m searching for sponsors to accompany me on these two world tours.”
Ireland has a history of getting behind their sporting heroes – no matter the discipline; pouring endless adoration on Roy Keane, Brian O’Driscoll, Shane Lowry and Katie Taylor when they reach the pinnacle of world sport. But the support is just as strong – if not stronger – when the sports in question are more niche. The country becomes a collective expert in the intricacies of rowing, sailing, or snooker when admiring the prowess of the O’Donovan brothers, Annalise Murphy or Ken Doherty.
Without any help or funding, Alexandre Beretta-O’Reilly has elevated Ireland’s standing in these sports to a higher level than ever before. With a little investment and a little media focus, Alexandre could become the next darling of the nation. It behoves Sport Ireland and The Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI) to work with the 26 year old and funnel some basic funds his way. Surely he’s earned it.
Alexandre recently secured his first sponsorship contract with energy drink company, Rhin Blue. To pay the bills, however, he has found another way to monetise a hobby. Alexandre is a renowned street artist, painting murals all over the world. “About my art, well this is easy; my dream is to paint a mural in every country of the globe,” he says.
“My artistic approach seeks to create a link between the past and the present, and is often focused on a message. My art is aimed at making my knowledge of art history accessible to others by transcribing it in a contemporary context. My academic knowledge combined with street art skills give me a definite advantage… I’m also the only (person) in the world using roller blades to paint on the ground.”