independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Injured athletes receive 'carding' grants boost

Robert Heffernan will be hoping to make a successful return to action in Raheny on Sunday
Robert Heffernan will be hoping to make a successful return to action in Raheny on Sunday

THE list of athletes who will receive 'carding' grants for 2014 under Athletics Ireland's new self-regulated system will be finalised today and is expected to include fewer individuals than before.

However, the AAI's new grant scheme -- which they've dubbed 'Operation Gold Performance' -- includes two new categories of funding -- 'development' and 'emerging talent' -- and also allows for athletes who have been on an extended injury-break to continue to get funding, something that the Sports Council had clamped down on in the past year.

If the athletics system can be streamlined over the next year, they are also hoping that the first of the quarterly payments will in future take place in January rather than March.

This has been a real bug-bear for athletes, whose season climaxes in the summer, but the earliest the new scheme can happen is in 2015.

Irish athletics, swimming and sailing are the first three sports that the Sports Council has cleared to administer their own 'carding system' and, given the number of athletes and disciplines involved, Athletics Ireland's new scheme is certainly the most complex.

DIFFERENCE

Grants are still based on meeting performance targets, including major championship placings, but one key difference is that one good showing will not necessarily qualify an athlete. A series of good performances may be required to maintain funding.

Another key difference is that athletes who meet the criteria after the initial selection date will not subsequently get onto the individual scheme.

Now they will be included in a new 'team carding' scheme and will not qualify for individual funding until the following season.

The three previous levels -- Podium (€40,000), World Class (€20,000) and International (€12,000) -- are retained, but there are also additional Development (€8,000) and Emerging talent (€3,000) classes.

It could be argued that these two levels existed informally before as AAI often used their general high performance grant to subsidise development athletes who were not individually catered for in the Sports Council's scheme.

Kevin Ankrom (HP director), Chris Jones (national endurance coach) and Jacqui Freyne (junior high performance manager) make up the selection panel, who will be guided by clear qualification criteria set out on the AAI website.

There is a selection meeting today to decide next year's recipients and that list could be released immediatley, but, if not, it will be out by Monday at the latest.

Any athletes nominated must still be ratified by the Sports Council, who still have a veto, while there is also a clear appeals process for those not selected.

They have seven days to submit an appeal and these will be heard by a panel chaired by Gerry Dunne and will also include Caroline O'Shea, Iggy O Muircheartaigh, Niall Moyna and Liam Hennessy.

Athletics Ireland say this new carding system is the most transparent yet, but there is still a significant amount of discretion given to the selection committee in the various subsections of Rule Four.

Athletes will be delighted that injuries, which can disrupt training for three months and more, will now be a mitigating factor under Rule Six.

In the past season, if you were out injured for a year, you could not get funding until you had come back and proven yourself, but this new scheme allows for injured athletes to continue getting support.

And even though an athlete will be dropped off the scheme if they do not show progress for two consecutive years ("regardless of injury or other circumstances"), there is also a clause in Rule 4.4 that indicates some wriggle-room there at the selectors' discretion.

Athletes have expressed worries before that taking the scheme 'in-house' may disadvantage anyone who has fallen out with the AAI, but high performance director Ankrom stressed that "every carding decision will start with a clean page."

Elsewhere, Robert Heffernan returns to competition for the first time since his World Championship victory in Sunday's Woodie's DIY National 30km Walk Championships in St Anne's Park, Raheny (11.0), while Fionnuala Britton will be competing in a cross-country race in Brussels.

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