Irish Olympic hopefuls being left behind because of Covid-19 restictions says OFI chief

Cork rowers Paul and Gary O'Donovan were one of Ireland's success stories at Rio 2016. However, like athletes across all codes, they have been unable to commence their preparations for Tokyo 2021 as a result of current Covid-19 restrictions. Picture by PA
Neil Loughran

IRELAND'S Olympic hopefuls are losing ground on their global rivals in the race towards Tokyo 2021 because of the Covid-19 restrictions still in place, says Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI) chief executive Peter Sherrard.

Former Irish boxing coach Billy Walsh has previously expressed similar concerns about the preparation of his USA team ahead of the rescheduled Games, with leading countries across the world having already commenced their preparation while others remain in limbo.

Lightweight hope Kellie Harrington, meanwhile, claimed that, following a recent Zoom meeting with Irish Athletic Boxing Association high performance director Bernard Dunne, a return to Abbotstown's National Sports Campus was not on the cards any time soon.

"January will possibly be when we are back,” she told RTE's Des Cahill, “so that is still a long way away.”

As a result of such circumstances affecting Irish sportspeople across the board, the OFI wants to see measures put in place to assist prospective Olympic and Paralympic athletes during the current crisis, including permission to travel to national training facilities.

Under the current phase one of the south's easing of the Covid-19 restrictions, some sports facilities have reopened, but athletes have been unable to access them because of the five kilometre travel restriction.

Sherrard believes that this is leaving Irish Olympic hopefuls at a disadvantage compared to their rivals.

He said: “To take one sport as an example, we have a situation at the moment where rowing clubs for recreational users in Ireland are open in line with government protocols, yet our Olympic rowers can't access the water in line with those same protocols because they are living outside the permitted kilometre radius from their national training centre.

“The solution is a simple waiver from the relevant health authorities for this small number of athletes so that they can travel the required distance to train, just as their competitors internationally have been granted weeks ago. Frustrations of this nature are being experienced by elite athletes from a variety of sports.

“Our Olympic Sports have all prepared very detailed protocols which have been reviewed medically for a return to the venues like the Sport Ireland Campus, the Sport Ireland Institute and the National Aquatic Centre and National Rowing Centre, in advance of, and in isolation from the general public, as is happening in other European countries.”

The County Down man added that Ireland's Olympic athletes would continue to support the measures, but called for a resolution to be reached as soon as possible.

“Irish sport and Irish athletes have been incredibly respectful throughout lockdown and will continue to support all the measures that need to be implemented,” he said.

“While phased plans have been agreed for a recreational return to sport, we believe that the Olympic and Paralympic athletes who represent us internationally need prioritisation to return without delay.

“As a group, the athletes of Team Ireland have shown true resilience and have been role models to us all throughout this crisis, but the longer they are away from their high performance training environments, the harder it will be for them to return to optimum fitness and their peak performance in time for next year's Games.

"Our athletes are being left behind. They're seeing their counterparts across Europe return to training and return to stability, albeit in a different manner because of the protocols. It's leading to a great sense of frustration from them and it makes it very difficult because they see they are losing touch with their competitors."

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