Athletics Ireland still running to stand still
ATHLETICS:The disturbing resignation of Anne Keenan-Buckley shows how the high performance aspect of Athletics Ireland continues to limp from one crisis to another
‘YOUR GAME is run by idiots. It’s not run by bright people.”
It was, by cosmic coincidence, while reading this exact line last Wednesday evening – Fifa president Sepp Blatter telling Sebastian Coe what he thought of the English FA – that a text message arrived telling me that Anne Keenan-Buckley was resigning as cross country coach with Athletics Ireland.
This didn’t sound very bright to me, and caught somewhere between a laugh and a tear, it seemed better I just read on, and this latest instalment of Coe’s new autobiography, Running My Life, published next Thursday, the best bits of which were serialised in the Times this week.
Coe is still walking around cloud number nine after chairing the incredible organisational success that became the London Olympics, although he’s not quite as proud about his role in England’s futile bid to stage the 2018 World Cup. Coe himself admits it had “the smell of death about it”, at least after the “vituperative nature” he discovered at his first bid meeting, and the “thinly disguised contempt around the table”.
Luckily for him, the “internecine warfare” (again, Coe’s words) within the English FA was the complete reverse of the spirit that ran the London Olympics: indeed Coe is now unopposed in the election for chairman of the British Olympic Association, which takes place next Wednesday, and is reportedly in the running for the British Order of Merit, the highest honour the Queen can confer on a person, and limited to 24 members at any one time – with Coe possibly taking up a vacancy that has existed since the death of Andrew Huxley, a Nobel Prize-winning biophysicist and physiologist.
Anyway, then I called Anne Keenan-Buckley, at her home in Portlaoise, and found a woman in no mood for a laugh, and seemingly on the verge of a tear.
For as long as I’ve known her, which is probably longer than either of us would care to admit, she’s been among the most honest and trusted and respected figures within Irish athletics, and her record proves it: she began running at age 14, competed at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, and in extraordinary display of longevity, was still competing into her 40s, winning a World Cross Country team medal in 2001, and at the Europeans in 2003.
In 2006 she was named cross country coach with Athletics Ireland, a popular and reliable appointment, and along with the success of the men’s under-23 team gold at the 2010 European Cross Country, she was the first person to embrace Fionnuala Britton after her brilliant individual women’s gold in Slovenia last December.
So, to hear Keenan-Buckley say she was “very disillusioned with the management and direction of high performance within Athletics Ireland”, that she had no option but to resign with immediate effect, in the hope “that would be in the best interest of the athletes”, wasn’t so much disappointing as truly disturbing – and that it happened just five weeks before the 2012 European Cross Country in Hungary was almost laughable, if it wasn’t so critically serious.