Saturday 24 February 2018

'They're constantly harassing me' -Ciarán Ó Lionáird slams Sport Ireland test attempt

Ciarán Ó Lionáird. Photo: Sportsfile
Ciarán Ó Lionáird. Photo: Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

Ciarán Ó Lionáird has slammed Sport Ireland's anti-doping unit after it unsuccessfully attempted to test him yesterday morning, an infraction which may yet see the retired athlete fall foul of anti-doping rules.

Ó Lionáird, a world 1,500m finalist in 2011, was at his home in Portland, Oregon yesterday morning when he awoke to a series of missed calls from a doping control officer. After returning the call, he was informed they had been unable to access his apartment block and, as such, he would rack up a missed test.

Under current rules, three such violations within a 12-month period would warrant a four-year ban from the sport. Ó Lionáird, who has not raced in over a year, has not trained in several months - which he says he told Sport Ireland on several occasions - but nonetheless they have continued to test him.

"Around Christmas last year I got tested in a bar," he said. "I'm fed up with it, they're constantly harassing me about whereabouts, and I'm done. I've made them aware I'm no longer training, but I don't really want my career to end in a ban."

Last year Paralympic cyclist James Brown was banned for two years and six months after refusing to submit a sample. The 52-year-old had informed Cycling Ireland the previous day that he was retiring from the squad, but crucially not informed Sport Ireland. Under the rules, athletes must provide "compelling justification" for not providing a sample.

Ó Lionáird, however, is highly unlikely to face such a sanction, given the doping control officer did not gain access to his home to request a sample. While he concedes that Sport Ireland was within its rights, he believes testing him was a waste of resources.

"How much does it cost? It had to have been over €100,000 testing me over the course of my career. What could they have done with that €100,000? If I ended up having three missed tests or getting banned, I don't care. I'm done.

"Whatever it was for this test - several hundred or a thousand euro - you could have paid for an athlete's trip to a warm-weather training camp, and that's my point: there's not unlimited resources, so why are they putting them into testing a guy who's done? Does anyone really believe I'm coming back?"

Ó Lionáird received a grant from Sport Ireland until 2015, and has remained in their drug-testing pool since despite indications that he was stepping away from athletics. He is required to supply his whereabouts each day and a one-hour slot when he will be available for testing, though he admits he has paid little attention to updating the system this year.

"I got paid by the Sports Council and gave my best in training and in races," he said. "I trained hard and competed clean. I just don't know what more I need to give."

Clean

At the peak of his career, Ó Lionáird was tested several times each year, but he believes the spend on testing doesn't justify its results.

"I proved I completed clean, but even if I didn't, nothing about their behaviour suggested they would have been able to catch me if I was (doping). I still feel like you could micro-dose and get away with it, because people are.

"Don't you have other athletes to worry about? I haven't raced worth a damn in three years. Are you really going to waste taxpayers' money to do this? What's it worth? Are they just testing people so they're spending their budget and is it just a bureaucratic thing, because if it is, that's bulls**t.

"Because resources are finite, so let's put that money into supporting athletes, but I don't think they're interested in that. They're interested in catching athletes and that, to me, is fundamentally wrong."

Ó Lionáird says he did not make a formal retirement announcement when stepping away from the sport as he had been hoping to move on quietly. "Once I mentally moved on I didn't want to talk about my career," he said, "but I guess this forces my hand into telling people I'm officially done."

Irish Independent

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