Success of new stars can inspire athletics boom in ways sports bodies could only have dreamt about
Athletes Rhasidat Adeleke and Israel Olatunde have done more for diversity and inclusivity in less than a minute than the sporting bodies in Ireland could dream of in years.
Coming home from the European Championships, having broken national records and taken their place in the spotlight of success, they are now the ones who will be inspiring more Irish children and telling them that anything is possible.
In Tallaght, Dublin, Latifah Adeleke told how she was screaming at her laptop as her sister stretched for her dream.
“I’m very proud of her. She’s done so well for her age as well. All the hard work she has put in is finally paying off. So I’m very happy and so proud of her,” said Latifah about her sister, who came fifth in the European Championships 400 metres final, smashing her own Irish record by finishing in 50.53 seconds – all at the age of 19.
Latifah added: “Since the age of around 11, when her teacher told her to join the athletics club, that’s when Rhasidat was like, ‘Yeah, this is for me’. We had no doubt she would get the success she has.
“Obviously, it was going to take hard work and time but I always knew she was going to get there, especially with the hard work she puts in every day out training. I knew she was going to get there.
“I was watching the race in my room on my laptop. I was so nervous I felt like I was actually there. I was shouting, ‘Go Rhasidat, go Rhasidat, go’ at the screen.
“OK, there’s no medal this time, but a personal best and a national record. Yeah, it’s really good, it’s fantastic.”
Rhasidat joined Tallaght Athletics Club while she was a young pupil at St Mark’s School in the area, and initially tried a lot of different sports before finding running was her forte. Now she’s going from strength to strength and has the Paris 2024 Olympics in her sights.
“She’s done long jump, high jump, she’s probably done a few throws with a javelin as well, but running is where she’s best,” Latifah said.
“Being black Irish, I feel like a lot of people look up to her and she’s doing really well. She’s representing Ireland, and representing the black community as well. It’s unbelievable and it feels surreal.
“And I feel like once you have one person that’s doing well, other people will want to follow and do well too. So hopefully this is encouraging more people of different ethnicities to join sports and do whatever they want to do, and believe there’s nothing stopping them.”
In May this year, Sport Ireland launched its first Diversity and Inclusion Policy in Sport, which outlined its vision for a sport sector that celebrates diversity, promotes inclusion, and is pro-active in providing opportunities for lifelong participation for everyone.
The process of developing the policy was informed by an extensive consultation process incorporating focus groups, semi-structured interviews and surveys. More than 2,000 individuals, and over 150 organisations contributed to the process.
However, actions speak louder than words, and the success of Israel Olatunde and Rhasidat Adeleke is being seen as a massive boost to sporting diversity campaigns.
Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers helped launch the Sport Ireland campaign in May, and yesterday said the success of Israel and Rhasidat this week is hugely positive for sport.
“It’s part of a broader emergence of diversity in our sporting system that we need to grow and encourage in the years ahead at both a grassroots and high-performance level,” he said.
“Sport Ireland has recently published a new Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for the sporting system and the development of those principles across sporting organisations is one of four key priorities for 2023.
“Athletes of this calibre come forward and embody modern Ireland, and will undoubtedly inspire the next generation of Irish sporting talent. This week’s successes show that diversity is now a reality rather than an aspiration.”
The reality of record beating success is also being celebrated at Tallaght Athletics Club, where spokesman Cecil Johnson said the performances put in by Israel and Rhasidat gives great exposure to Irish athletes born of African parents.
“The television exposure and interviews in the media have really given great exposure to those athletes. That integration of people from other communities and other countries in recent years certainly added to the potential of successes for Ireland,” Mr Johnson said.
“We as a club have been very inclusive over the years. Rhasidat is here since she was very young as are some other athletes from African families. I would say that probably 30-40pc of our juvenile athletes are of African origin.
“The club embraces that and it probably attracts even more to join the club. Rhasidat’s achievement, and Israel’s, will certainly increase that participation.
“I think this will certainly attract more to the sport, there’s no doubt about that. And hopefully we will benefit up here as a club in Tallaght, as will other clubs, not just in the Dublin region but nationally.
“But I think, unfortunately, that it’s only these types of championships with the exposure that they get, that seems to get notice.
“In Dublin alone, for example, we organise all the competitions for juveniles from Under 10 up to Under 19s track-and-field, and cross-country.
“And it’s quite intensive. With track-and-field entries alone for Dublin you’d have in the region of 2600 or 2700 entries, and 330 relay teams competing.
“It’s an unbelievable spectacle, but something that unfortunately doesn’t get its fair share of coverage in the media.”