Sunday 19 May 2019

Cross-country revamp tops agenda for AAI Congress

Pole Vaulter Ian Rogers of Clonliffe Harriers A.C.
Pole Vaulter Ian Rogers of Clonliffe Harriers A.C.

Cliona Foley

A REVAMP of Athletics Ireland's major cross-country competitions looks imminent, as it will be on the agenda at Congress this year.

The numbers of athletes taking part in the national inter-club cross-countries have diminished substantially in recent seasons, to the point where there is a growing lobby for change that has come to a head with some motions to Congress.

Inter-clubs used to be the blue riband of the domestic cross-country calendar and the most prestigious title to win, but its ability to draw the country's elite stars and large numbers of competitors has dwindled alarmingly. The debate on its future will be up for discussion at the AAI's biennial Congress in Cork on April 27/28.

Motions for Congress will be released to clubs early next week and even if they don't include anything specific on the cross-country schedule it will be raised by the top table.

The chairperson of the national competitions committee, Georgina Drumm, says they have formed some strong opinions on the timing of the championships, but stressed that their future "will be dictated by the floor of Congress".

The inter-counties take place in late November and are used as a trial for the pre-Christmas European Cross-Countries. The inter-counties do not take place until late February or early March and have been used as trials for World Cross-Countries, which used to take place soon after them.

But the World Cross-Country only takes place every second year now and European countries are increasingly sending only individuals, not teams, due to the African dominance.

That appears to be one of the contributing factors to the drop in participation rates for inter-clubs, but Drumm feels it is not the only one.

The longer length of the races at inter-clubs is a second, and another seems to be the growth in domestic indoor racing. The timing of the Aviva Irish Schools' Cross-Country – usually after inter-clubs – is another factor that will have to be taken into account if the calendar is changed.

The schools' cross-country season continues until the SIAB Schools' International (U-15 and U-17), which takes place in Bolton tomorrow.

The fact that the National Juvenile Indoor Championships are also taking place this weekend (and next) shows just how crowded the timetable has become and how creative any solution needs to be.

Clonliffe Harriers are among the clubs who have been lobbying for the inter-clubs to be moved to the pre-Christmas date, citing the dramatic drop-off. At inter-counties last year there were 147 finishers in senior men, 50 in senior women, 50 in junior men and 33 in junior women.

Three months later, at inter-clubs, those figures were 71, 27, 30 and 12 respectively, and the numbers of clubs participating was also down.

Those at the coalface of Irish athletics clubs point to the anomaly of this fall-off at a time when Ireland is in the middle of such a massive road-running boom.

Irish Independent

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