Friday 15 December 2017

Athletics row could have been avoided

John Greene

John Greene

On the face of it, all appeared well last week as the Ireland track and field team for the European Championships in Helsinki was confirmed.

In all, a 26-strong team was named for this week's event and Kevin Ankrom, Athletics Ireland's high performance director, singled out Fionnuala Britton in the 10,000m as a genuine medal contender.

Ankrom's belief is that there are medal opportunities this week because the proximity of the championships to the Olympics means some athletes will bypass Helsinki as it doesn't fit in with their schedule.

Indeed, there are several high-profile Irish absentees -- such as Derval O'Rourke and Deirdre Ryan -- because of this, while Ciarán ó Lionáird, who is on the comeback trail from injury, also misses out. So, a lot of attention will undoubtedly focus on Britton, especially now that she has been singled out.

"I think Fionnuala's your number one person to look at, not only because she's run the time but because she has shown good form coming into it at that level," Ankrom told journalists, adding: "There's opportunities for medals, but I still don't think we have anyone other than Fionnuala there who you've got to say are in medal contention at this moment."

Attention here will also focus on a number of athletes who are pushing hard for the Olympic 'A' standard before the looming deadline of July 8.

The sprinter Steven Colvert, for example, goes to Helsinki fresh off two 200m runs of 20.57 in Slovenia and 20.59 in Sweden -- the qualifying time for London is 20.55. Others looking to secure their place at the Olympics include Jason Smyth and 400m runner Brian Gregan, and hurdler Jessie Barr, while the men's and women's 4x400m relay teams are also hunting down Olympic spots.

Beneath the surface last week, however, all was far from well. In the wake of the announcement of the Irish team, a number of athletes -- some well known, others less so -- hit out at the selection and vented their feelings to an extraordinary level through social media.

Athletes live in a bubble. Jesse Owens said that it takes a lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort to make dreams real. This is why athletes tend not just to be single-minded, but also singular, focused largely on their own careers. Which is what makes last week's outcry so unusual.

This is a flavour of what athletes posted on Twitter:

'Just sickens me to see athletes getting screwed over but why am I not surprised.'

'Out of athletics nearly a year now, yet why is that even I out of the loop can see a few deserving athletes left out?'

'People get on and Like this, 2 Irish athletes with qualifying A standards not let run at European champs in their event.'

'What a bittersweet weekend. first time to run sub 48 but not selected for a 6 man euro relay squad even though I'm fourth in rnkings. V disappointed.'

'Why are athletes such as Brian Murphy and Rory Chesser not competing in the European Championships? We have no clue how to develop the sport.'

Last week, on these pages, we flagged up the fact that the qualifying standards for Irish athletes for Helsinki were even faster than those laid down by the European governing body and this is what has given rise to the negative reaction, particularly in the case of Chesser and Murphy, although they are by no means the only ones who feel hard done by. There has even been a Facebook page set up called 'Let Rory Chesser and Brian Murphy compete in the European Track and Field Championships'.

Both Chesser (pictured), a 1,500m runner, and Murphy, a 400m runner, have achieved the times required by the European Athletics Association to take part on multiple occasions this season but fell agonisingly short of the higher standard imposed by Athletics Ireland. A consolation for Murphy is that he is part of the relay team but presumably, like any athlete in his situation, he feels he has earned the right to run his event too. It is odd, as he will be in Helsinki anyway, that he has not been chosen to run in the 400m.

What's even more strange is that both Chesser and Murphy were entered originally in the championships, and they were listed by the EAA as starters in their respective events These are not the only two athletes to achieve the EAA standard and be overlooked, but their case has been taken up by their colleagues in a manner very much unprecedented in Irish athletics.

The association will argue that it has turned over a new leaf and that it now demands higher standards from any athlete wishing to take part in a major championship. This, it will argue, is why it raised the qualification marks for Helsinki. And why, it will further argue, the only exceptions are for developmental purposes.

Of course, any team selection in any sport is always open to criticism, and those left out are naturally not going to be happy, so in this respect Ankrom and his colleagues are hostages to fortune. Once you put yourself forward as a selector you are leaving yourself wide open because, ultimately, everyone has an opinion.

The problem, however, is that there are inconsistencies in this selection. In the team of 26, there are athletes who have not managed to attain even the EAA standard, let alone the more demanding one set down by AI. This does not make any sense.

This, then, was a controversy that could have been avoided.

As Albert Reynolds once said, it's the little things that trip you up.

Irish Independent Sport Star Awards

Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport