Ireland left in blocks as pre-Olympic training hub


OLYMPICS:WHEN THE president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, Pat Hickey, said last year in London that not many countries would take up the chance to prepare in Ireland for the London Olympic Games in 2012 few people took notice.

Hickey was accompanying the President Mary McAleese and her husband, Martin, around the multi-billion euro development in East London that will become the centre of the sporting world next July. Even then Hickey could see that plans to capitalise on London’s global carnival were failing and Ireland’s increasing failure to sell itself to the world as an Olympic hub prior to the games was becoming more obvious.

As the London Olympic Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) were disbursing grants of up to £25,000 for Olympic teams who would use any of their 600 approved Olympic sites around Britain, Ireland has nailed down just four foreign teams to come here to train.

Two of those, the Hungarian and British water polo teams, will be here and gone next week leaving only the USA synchronised swimming team and the UK Paralympic swimming squad, who have agreed to use the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin prior to London.

Yesterday LOCOG provided a document that showed they already have over 80 international federations committed to doing their pre-Olympic training in centres all over Britain. They are also certain that the number will dramatically increase over the next year.

Sheffield alone has made agreements with the Olympic Committee of Serbia, USA Diving and the Brazilian judo team. Cardiff has agreements with three nations, Bath with two. The prized USA track and field team has a provisional agreement with a Birmingham local authority to prepare there. The Jamaican athletics team, with 100m champion and world record holder Usain Bolt, are also scheduled to be based there. But Birmingham has one thing Ireland does not, a world-class running track.

The Canadian diving team are in Plymouth, the Dutch swimming team in Leeds and the Irish team will take up residence in Richmond-upon-Thames with a base in Landsbury House, close to the nearby Bushy and Richmond Parks where the runners and cyclists can train.

Although Northern Ireland sites are part of the UK suite of approved venues, no non-British team has yet agreed to set up camp in the province.

It is far from the declaration made by former minister John O’Donoghue in 2007 that the Games in London represented a “golden opportunity”. On the strength of that leap of optimism a ‘2012 Task Force’ was launched. Sports ministers Séamus Brennan and Martin Cullen came and went and Mary Hanafin arrived speaking the same language.

But Ireland’s low visibility in selling the country as a pre-Olympic venue is in stark contrast with our biggest competitor for teams, the hosts. On March 23rd this year a Pre-Olympic Training Camp Introduction seminar was held by British officials in the headquarters of China’s General Administration of Sport in Beijing. Chinese representatives of 27 summer sports attended.

The LOCOG also distributed a venue guide to over 200 countries following the Beijing Olympics in 2008. That guide alone had over 800 applications from various British local authorities and centres hoping to be included.

In May of this year the current Sports Minister Leo Varadkar told The Irish Times: “On sports, I’d like to put together a new sports capital programme . . . a small one. We haven’t had one for a couple of years.” He believed it would be possible to complete some projects at the national sports campus in Abbotstown at “no cost to the exchequer”. He also intriguingly added that “some of the sports bodies have money”.

They do but they are not Irish and so far are not coming here prior to next year’s Olympics.