Monday 19 August 2019

Funding boost for 12 rising Irish athletes as part of 2020 vision

Swimmer Mona McSharry at the OCI Tokyo Summer Scholarship announcement, where it was announced eight athletes and one team sport will receive IOC Olympic Solidarity Scholarships to aid with training and preparations for Tokyo 2020 with a further four athletes receiving scholarships directly from the Olympic Council of Ireland. #TeamIreland Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Swimmer Mona McSharry at the OCI Tokyo Summer Scholarship announcement, where it was announced eight athletes and one team sport will receive IOC Olympic Solidarity Scholarships to aid with training and preparations for Tokyo 2020 with a further four athletes receiving scholarships directly from the Olympic Council of Ireland. #TeamIreland Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

Traditionally, the path to an Olympic Games is all too often paved with poverty, at least for unknown athletes in the minority sports we wake up to once every four years.

But for 12 of Ireland's brightest young talents, things will be made that bit easier as they train their sights on Tokyo 2020.

Yesterday the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) announced a dozen individual recipients of Olympic Solidarity Scholarships, who will each receive $625 (€525) per month in the build-up to the 2020 Games and additional funding of up to $5,000 (€4,200) to assist with travel costs to competitions.

After consulting with national sporting federations, the OCI submitted applications on behalf of 12 Irish athletes to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), with eight scholarships eventually awarded.

To make up the difference, the OCI have invested an additional €140,000 of their own to bring the number of scholarships up to 12.

Given the IOC have faced staunch criticism in recent years for failing to adequately distribute their wealth to athletes, the scholarships appear to be the first step in redressing that imbalance.

While the $625 per month the athletes are set to receive looks like small change compared to the $900 (€755) per diems IOC executives receive each day while on business trips, it's set to be gratefully received by the young recipients.

"It really is important," said Mona McSharry (17), the world junior champion in the 100m breaststroke who was among the athletes speaking at the announcement in Dublin.

McSharry trains twice daily with her club coach in Sligo, and believes the funding boost will make things easier for her and her family.

"I have such a good set-up and a really good home coach, but it's important for me to train with people at the same level. "This will pay for going to Dublin more often and to use the Swim Ireland facilities, which are amazing."

Having departed from their amateur ideals, the Olympics now more closely represent an exercise in international one-upmanship, with medals mined, above all, by money. Those who fail to invest are investing in failure, a point acknowledged by OCI president Sarah Keane yesterday.

"Funding is crucial to performance sport which, given the international competition, travel, expert coaching, equipment, sports science and medicine involved is resource intensive," she said.

"It is a testament to the work by the athletes themselves and those involved in Ireland's sport performance programmes that we have such an exciting group of talented athletes across a range of sports."

In addition to the 12 individual athletes, the Irish men's hockey team were also awarded an additional $25,000 per year to assist with qualification for the 2020 Games.

12 athletes for 2020

Síofra Cléirigh-Buttner (Athletics)

Nhat Nguyen (Badminton)

Liam Jegou (Canoeing)

Mark Downey (Cycling)

Ian O'Sullivan (Clay pigeon shooting)

Cathal Daniels (Equestrian)

Leona Maguire (Golf)

Rhys McClenaghan (Gymnastics)

Megan Fletcher (Judo)

Denise Walsh (Rowing)

Mona McSharry (Swimming)

Jack Wooley (Taekwondo)

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