Friday 24 February 2017

'I just want to skate for Ireland' - Figure skater who took high profile case faces ban

Cathal McMahon

Cathal McMahon

Ice skater Fianait Bligh, who is heading off to Canada for training, at her home in Glasnevin. Arthur Carron
Ice skater Fianait Bligh, who is heading off to Canada for training, at her home in Glasnevin. Arthur Carron

A figure skater who failed in a High Court bid to be selected for the national squad now fears she may never be able to represent Ireland if costs are ordered against her.

Fianait Bligh (19) took a high profile case in 2015 where she sought orders compelling the Ice Skating Association of Ireland (ISAI) to comply with representations allegedly made to her, if she fulfilled certain criteria, she would be selected to take part in International Skating Union (ISU) events.

Fianait Bligh
Fianait Bligh

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan ruled in July 2015 that Ms Bligh had failed to make out a case entitling her to the mandatory orders sought.

Her failure in the High Court was followed by an unsuccessful arbitration process and now Ms Bligh is back before the courts this Friday where a judge is expected to rule on costs for the legal process.

In an exclusive interview with Independent.ie, Ms Bligh has revealed that a rule could mean that she will no longer have the opportunity to compete for Ireland.

Under Section 100 of the ISAI’s rules and regulations, February 2016, members must of the ISAI must be of “good standing”.

Fianait Bligh
Fianait Bligh

This is further clarified to mean that: “All outstanding financial obligations of the member to the ISAI and/or an Affiliated Club have been met.”

Ms Bligh, who is originally from Dublin but who trains in Canada, explained: “If they win the court case they will not allow me to skate on their rinks. They have brought in new rules saying that I can’t skate on their ice times or anything.”

She continued: “I just want to be given the same opportunity everyone else has. I want to be allowed to compete at ISU competitions and represent Ireland. Everyone else has been allowed.”

The case for damages is due before the High Court on Friday and sources have revealed that it is being brought on behalf of the ISAI’s insurers to recover the costs of the 2015 action.

Fianait Bligh
Fianait Bligh

Ms Bligh said she is bringing her own counter measure for costs, arguing against the original judgement.

“We wouldn’t have done that if they hadn’t brought the cost application in the first place,” she said.

“My parents are not going to pay because my parents can’t afford that sort of thing after the previous court case.”

Mum Debbie explained:  “If they [ISAI] are successful they think we will pay the costs to ensure that she can continue to skate, but we don't have the money to pay them. 

“We would have appealed to Lausanne if we had had the money.”

Ms Bligh, from North Dublin, began skating at 12 and she finished school early to fulfil her dream of competing in International Skating Union (ISU) events.

Fianait Bligh
Fianait Bligh

She has spent time living and training in Scotland and is due to return to Canada after the court hearing on Friday.

It is her dream to represent Ireland and she has dedicated her life to the sport.

"When I am on the ice I feel alive and exactly where I'm supposed to be. I wish I could bottle the feeling I get when I skate and give it to others to share they joy and excitement it brings to me.

"I injured my foot back in January and was unable to skate for six months which left me absolutely devastated. I busied myself by going back to complete the leaving cert. Although I love school and learning, this experience just further solidified in my mind that skating is what I want to do for the rest of my life"

Asked what it means not to be able to compete for her country Ms Bligh said: "Not being able to compete for my country makes the sacrifices I am making almost meaningless.

"I am not allowed to enter the competitions I need to and this is prohibiting me from gaining valuable experience and the necessary scores to increase Ireland's profile in international skating.

"I was born and raised in Ireland and would take great pride in representing my country like every other athlete. I work hard every single day and just want to be given what I have earned and what every other competitive Irish figure skater has received."

A spokesperson for the ISAI said they had no comment until after legal proceedings are concluded.

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