Wednesday 20 November 2019

Indoor velodrome adds to Campus momentum

Martyn Irvine (pictured centre) is just one of Ireland's top cyclists who cannot currently train in Ireland due to the lack of an international-standard velodrome
Martyn Irvine (pictured centre) is just one of Ireland's top cyclists who cannot currently train in Ireland due to the lack of an international-standard velodrome

John Greene

Ireland's first international standard indoor velodrome will now be located on the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, and not in Dundalk as originally thought.

Last month plans were unveiled for a state-of-the-art 250-metre track in the former JJB Sports Complex, a well-known building in the area which was purchased by Dundalk Institute of Technology last year.

The college and a local cycling club hatched a plan to include the track as part of plans to redevelop the complex, an impressive facility which also has gyms, indoor pitches, multiple changing rooms and an ice rink on site. However, the velodrome plan hit a stumbling block soon after being announced when Dundalk IT students voted overwhelmingly against it.

Cycling Ireland, which was not involved in the Dundalk plan, has for some time been pursuing the possibility of constructing a velodrome on the sports campus. Along with Badminton Ireland, they commissioned a feasibility study and the National Sports Campus Development Authority (NSCDA) were sufficiently enthused by the findings to present them to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

The study concluded that once it becomes operational the business model being proposed for the velodrome will mean that it can be self-financing. And last week, Leo Varadkar gave the NSCDA the go ahead to draw up plans for a velodrome.

It's understood that it will be built to international specifications, with a 250-metre track wrapped around a badminton facility containing 16 courts. The cost of the project is estimated at around €8m.

According to a source, if planning is secured and funding becomes available – although it is not currently budgeted for – work could start on the velodrome later this year. While on the face of it, funding may appear to be an issue, there are options open to both the NSCDA and the Department within current budgets to divert some money into the project, while Cycling Ireland and Badminton Ireland may also be called on to invest in it.

The rate of expansion at the campus is now quite dramatic. In recent weeks, the new multi-purpose all-weather pitches have been opened, while the GAA and the FAI have commenced work on their training facilities. The indoor arena – once considered fanciful – looms ever larger, with technical advisors now in place, and with Varadkar having committed €13m to advance the project. As one source said on Friday, the campus is now moving forward "at warp speed".

The velodrome plan has only recently come to the fore, and this was in the wake of the feasibility study which caught people's attention. There was always provision for such a facility on the 500-acre site, but it was thought to be a long-term aim. Well, not any more.

Ireland currently has outdoor tracks in Dublin and Belfast, and also one in Kanturk, but as the UK has demonstrated with the indoor arena at Manchester, when put to full and proper use the rewards can be great, in terms of success at elite level, and also – critically – in terms of increased participation.

Just over a year ago, Martyn Irvine won gold at the world track championships, and followed that up last month with a silver at this year's event, while Caroline Ryan is the world's top-ranked pursuit rider. Currently, Irvine, Ryan and others must go abroad to train so the benefits to Ireland's elite cyclists of a new track are obvious.

On top of that, as with other elements of the Campus, there is the hope that a top-of-the-range facility will increase participation levels in a sport which is continually on the rise in terms of leisure cycling. Once the track is accessible, there will be gains for cycling; in the same way that people might look to use a swimming pool others may look to use the velodrome.

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The surprise must be that it was a surprise at all. But judging by the headlines in last week's papers, it seems that we still haven't come to terms with our shortcomings when it comes to the health and well-being of our children. The results of the Cork Children's Lifestyle study, published last week, are alarming, even if the findings are old news. Our children are not being well served.

In total, 1,075 third and fourth class children – from across 27 schools in Cork and Mitchelstown – took part in the study. The good news was that three-quarters of the children reach the recommended 60 minutes of physical exercise,

which shows that efforts to get children more active are getting results. Sadly, it is still the case that boys are more likely than girls to achieve the minimum levels.

The study, however, once again brings home the clear problem this country has with rising obesity levels. A quarter of those who took part in this study were found to be overweight or obese. Other issues identified are high blood pressure, high salt intake, while one in five children watched three or more hours of TV per day. There is still a problem with sedentary lifestyles in children. Sporting organisations are the ones best equipped to lead the fight against this – all they need is a bit of government support and they could make a world of difference.

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The GAA has acknowledged that it needs to listen more to its grassroots members.

On Friday, Association president Liam O'Neill announced details of a new initiative called GAA Voice. The plan is to 'recruit' 5,000 members and fans to share their opinions through surveys and discussion groups on a wide range of topics affecting the GAA, its members, clubs and supporters.

"The introduction of GAA Voice will allow us to engage with our members and supporters, giving them a chance to have their say," said O'Neill. "This gives them the opportunity to help shape how we approach important issues within the GAA, and the feedback we receive will be invaluable."

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