Thursday 23 May 2019

Athletics: Coghlan blasts ‘A’ grade cut-off

Eamonn Coghlan's comments have the potential to reignite tensions between the OCI and the Sports Council.
Eamonn Coghlan's comments have the potential to reignite tensions between the OCI and the Sports Council.

Cliona Foley

EAMONN Coghlan has lashed the Olympic Council of Ireland's (OCI) decision to insist on 'A' standards only for next year's London Games, describing it as "an injustice".

The three-time Olympian and former world champion believes the OCI should accept the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) standards and says the proximity of London 2012 only increases the reasons for Ireland to send athletes with a 'B' standard.

"If the IAAF, and the international Olympic committee, are accepting 'B' standards and we in Ireland are saying 'A standards only', well personally I don't agree with that," Coghlan said.

"There was a U-turn done (to accept the 'B' standard) before Beijing for one or two individuals but not for one or two others. That was a political decision I think, that came down to two individuals, one in the Olympic Council and the other in government."

As Coghlan chairs the Sports Council's High Performance sub-committee, his comments have the potential to reignite the tensions that have previously existed between the OCI and the Sports Council.

But he stressed that he was speaking in a private capacity, saying "this is my personal view, this issue has not come up at the High Performance Committee whatsoever.

"There are very few in Ireland who are ever going to win an Olympic gold medal, so why only pick athletes who have that potential?" he said. "If an athlete has achieved the best 'B' standard in Ireland then they should go.

"The cost of sending (athletes) to London, compared with Beijing, is relatively little and we want to inspire, encourage and motivate the kids coming through the sport, not turn them off."

That the Sports Council's own standards have toughened was underlined by yesterday's individual grant announcements, which saw several prominent athletes dropped or relegated because they did not meet pre-agreed targets last year.

Those on the top level of funding (€40,000) have now been rechristened as 'podium athletes' and Coghlan made no apology for this onerous new title, saying: "Podium is the expectation. If this amount of money is invested in an athlete, year after year, then you expect them to deliver."

Roisin McGettigan, Alistair Cragg, Martin Fagan, Joanne Cuddihy, Mark Kenneally and Eileen O'Keeffe have all been dropped off the scheme, while Mary Cullen's funding has dropped from €20,000 to €12,000.

But Coghlan said that, as with all sports, athletes can return to the scheme, or change levels, during the season, once they meet their targets.

Robert Heffernan is the only athlete who has moved up to 'podium' status and in other sports, swimmer Grainne Murphy, cyclist Daniel Martin, paracyclist Mark Rohan and boxers Darren O'Neill, Eric Donovan and Tyrone McCullagh are among those who have made a similar leap.

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