Granted, the carding system has not been majorly overhauled
Athletics:I’ve always said that nothing fuels the paranoia of our more successful elite athletes than the prospect of losing their grant – with the possible exception of losing out on some free gear.
Indeed all my time in and around this sport has told me that athletes usually divide their careers into two distinct phases: those years spent trying to qualify for a grant, and those years spent trying to hold on to it. No athlete, naturally enough, will readily admit to this, although you should hear them talk about it “off the record”, and the blind cursing it evokes.
It’s almost seven years now since the Irish Sports Council last reviewed in any great detail the issuing and distribution of grants – or the carding scheme, as they prefer to call it – and that didn’t go down very well. In fact the announcement that several long-serving athletes such as Sonia O’Sullivan, Mark Carroll, Karen Shinkins and James Nolan were suddenly being cut was greeted with the angry shock associated with an amputation.
“Maybe instead of firing us, we should fire them,” said Carroll, referring to those in charge. Nolan compared it to “unfair dismissal” and Olympic rower Gearóid Towey, who had his grant cut to zero, said it felt like “a big kick in the teeth”.
So I sensed a collective sigh of relief when the 37-page report on the 2012 grant review dropped into my email just before lunchtime yesterday, although that’s not saying it won’t further fuel the paranoia of our elite athletes, particularly if the Sports Council are actually serious about how they intend to dish out the money from here on.
The distinct lack of any radical overhaul means no athlete will be thrown out the top floor window this time, but rather gently shown the back door exit. The key word here, it appears, is “phased” – ideally, it’s almost all change in the long term. This is probably just as well, as least if the Irish athletics performances at the London Olympics were somehow pivotal in the review process. Athletes, we know, are a selfish lot, even at the best of times, and it wasn’t without some envy that they watched the success of certain rival sports. With the honourable exception of Rob Heffernan’s heroic fourth place in the 50km walk, it was actually hard to find an Irish athlete who enjoyed being there: “If there’s a worse place than hell, I’m in it,” one athlete told me after being eliminated in his qualifying heat, although I think that was “off the record”.
What the Sports Council are proposing, behind thinly disguised cost saving exercises, is a more stream-lined grant distribution system, an increased focus on Olympic success, a new and superbly vague “social contract”, and the elimination of a so-called “entitlement culture”.