Focus begins on Olympic countdown to Tokyo 2020
Former Australian hockey player Patricia Heberle named Team Ireland chef de mission
Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe, Ireland modern pentathlete; Patricia Heberle, chef de mission for Tokyo 2020; John Treacy, chief executive of Sport Ireland; Sarah Keane, OFI president; and Nicci Daly, an Ireland international hockey player, at the launch of new performance supports ahead of Tokyo 2020. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Only 590 days to go! It might still seem a long way off, but that Olympic countdown to Tokyo 2020 has come into focus following two key decisions by the Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI).
Former Australian hockey player and England coach Patricia Heberle has been named Team Ireland chef de mission, a contracted and standalone position for the first time, in agreement with Sport Ireland. Heberle’s position becomes effective immediately, and will also include next year’s European Games in Minsk, Belarus.
It was also agreed that Fukuroi City and the Ecopa Stadium facilities will serve as the pre-games training camp for Team Ireland prior to Tokyo 2020. Located 90 minutes to the west of Tokyo, and connected directly to Tokyo by bullet train, the Ecopa Stadium features a full range of indoor and athletics facilities.
Fukuroi, incidentally, is also host city to the Rugby World Cup, which begins in October 2019, and is due to host the Irish rugby team for a week in 2019, thus providing further opportunity to develop performance synergies ahead of 2020.
Also as part of the Tokyo 2020 countdown, and indeed beyond, the Sport Ireland Institute has announced a new athlete partnership agreement for performance support delivery for the period 2018-2022.
The new partnership will aim to deliver a comprehensive performance support programme for Team Ireland, covering athlete life skills, sports science and medicine, as well as various games-readiness activities before, during and after Tokyo 2020.
The OFI underwent a complete rebranding over the summer, and is now largely unrecognisable from its previous incarnation, the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI). Previously the role of chef de mission for the OCI was recruited internally and on a voluntary basis, but Heberle’s appointment will see her take on all the responsibilities full-time.
As a player she won a bronze medal with Australia at the 1983 women’s hockey World Cup, and finished fourth at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. She was also involved with the Australian coaching team that won Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996, and again for the Sydney Olympic campaign, where she served as assistant coach for the gold medal-winning team. In 2001 she was appointed head coach of the England and Great Britain women’s team, leading England to silver at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
Since 2017, Heberle has worked for for the OFI as its high performance lead, and has recently been involved in leading the Sparking Performance programme for National Governing Bodies performance directors through the Sport Ireland Institute.
“This role means a huge amount to me,” she said. “I have participated in the three Olympic Games both as an athlete and a coach, and the opportunity to be chef de mission for Team Ireland is both a huge honour and a privilege.
“I am coming into the role at a very exciting time for Irish sport, having been involved for some time in the Irish high performance system. The people involved, the funding coming from Government and Sport Ireland is starting to deliver some really good results. The partnerships announced today are a huge step forward in ensuring that everyone is working together for the good of the athletes and their performances.”
Major step forward
Sarah Keane, who in early 2017 succeeded Pat Hickey as president of the Olympic body following the Rio ticketing scandal, added: “This partnership agreement is a major step forward in placing the athlete first, and comes at a crucial time as preparations for Tokyo gather pace. Our strategy is clear on the need to deliver for athletes.
“The appointment of Patricia Heberle as chef de mission in a standalone professional role, and the provision of sport science and medical care from Sport Ireland Institute practitioners during games time makes this a very important day for high performance sport in Ireland. Team Ireland is now functioning as a team ,with the whole system working together seamlessly for our athletes.”