Basketball chiefs have resisted calls for the national squad to train in Northern Ireland if the Men’s European Championship for Small Nations goes ahead here in June.
Ireland players will have little time to prepare for the tournament in Limerick after a year of inactivity if the Government and European sport administrators, FIBA, give it the green light.
Pandemic restrictions on training will likely be lifted in Northern Ireland before the Republic, allowing a quicker return to preparations in the ‘six counties’ as the UK’s vaccination programme races ahead.
However, Basketball Ireland CEO Bernard O’Byrne ruled out taking advantage of any lighter regulations there despite calls to move the squads north.
“We wouldn’t consider that as an option,” O’Byrne said as his association announced plans for 10 new centres of excellence.
“We’re funded by the Irish Government. We’re funded by Sport Ireland. We’re not looking for any loopholes. It is a real shame. We’re almost being punished for being an all-Ireland sport.
“We wouldn’t send our team up there. If the travel restrictions are eased, we still wouldn’t do it because it’s not the right thing to do unless we got permission from Sport Ireland or the Government.”
O’Byrne cast doubt over hosting the senior men’s event – which had already been postponed a year – between June 28 and July 3, calling it a “big ask”.
He believes the senior competition may be put back again to September, with a FIBA Europe decision due in May, as the pandemic across Europe worsens.
Such a deferral, however, will not be available for Ireland’s underage national teams who are set to play around the continent this summer.
“If you go back into September or October, obviously, the kids are back in school so you can’t be playing your European Championships across Europe,” O’Byrne said.
“It’s really disappointing for them because obviously you’re only
under-16 once. We are going to make some arrangements to award jerseys to them but you can’t award caps.”
International teams will benefit from two new centres of excellence at NUI Galway and Ulster University Jordanstown – the first of 10 planned nationwide.
Ireland’s national sides will access the centres’ coaching, S&C, nutrition and other services remotely before it and other basketball activity can resume properly.
As vaccinations roll out, O’Byrne hopes the successful return of the international teams can pave the way for the domestic game’s resumption.
“Our overall aim, hopefully if things ease up, is that our season would start as normal around September 1.”