Athletics Ireland defends decision to reject ‘all Ireland’ motion

“This was a genuine motion, from genuine athletics people,” says Larry Larkin of Galway City Harriers

Athletics Ireland has strongly defended its decision to reject a motion for next month’s Congress which called for the setting up of an “all Ireland” communications committee that would be representative of the 32 counties.

Although the association does operate on an “all island” basis, under the reconstitution first agreed back it 1999, it is still governed by the jurisdiction rules of the international governing body, the IAAF, and with that “limited to the political boundaries of the country that they represent”.

Against that backdrop, however, the old politics of the sport has raised its head again as a member of the Galway City Harriers club, Larry Larkin, has questioned the exact reason why his motion, approved by the Galway athletics board, was then rejected by Athletics Ireland on apparently conflicting political grounds.

"The motion proposed that a council be set up consisting of representatives of every county, to meet every quarter with the board of the organisation," said Larkin. "At that meeting, the county representatives would be briefed on what the board and officers are doing and would raise any matters with them on which they needed clarification.

'Genuine motion'
"This was a genuine motion, from genuine athletics people, aimed at improving communication from the top to the bottom. But if what Athletics Ireland are claiming is correct, and they are not an all island body, then the implications are massive. We certainly felt the motion as we worded it was perfectly legal."


However, that legality, or rather lack of, was explained by Liam Hennessy, the former president of Athletics Ireland, and current member of their technical committee: "The rule is very simple in that we are governed by the IAAF," said Hennessy. "Now, there is a grey area, in that we have unbelievable cooperation on the island of Ireland in the way athletics is worked, all based on mutual agreement.

“But our basic jurisdiction is the political boundary as recognised by the IAAF. We have to recognise those rules, but still our primary objective is to maximise every athletics resource on the island of Ireland.”

Indeed Athletics Ireland claim they responded to the Galway athletics board, suggesting an alternative wording which would have deemed the motion acceptable: "We're not into rejecting any motion, but rather getting them through," said Hennessy, who is also chairman of the standing orders committee which examines all motions going before Congress.

'Full compliance'
Larkin, however, still argued that "the Galway motion is in full compliance with the Articles of Association of the AAI (Athletics Ireland). It should therefore be allowed to go before Congress 2014 and allow the delegates attending decide its fate."

The majority of sporting associations in Ireland do now operate on an “all island” basis, going back to the Good Friday Agreement, including the Olympic Council of Ireland – that issue highlighted during the 2012 London Olympics, when all Irish representatives competed under “Team Ireland”. Similarly, Team Great Britain didn’t compete as Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This is also the reason why golfer Rory McIlroy can chose to represent either Team Ireland or Team Great Britain when it comes to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, because he can’t represent Northern Ireland.

In athletics, this has been the case since the former Bórd Lúthchleas na hÉireann (BLE) dissolved in 1999, along with the former all island body, the NACAI, to form Athletics Ireland, which also included the provision for Northern Ireland Association representation. Since then, athletes born in Northern Ireland can freely chose to represent either Ireland or Great Britain in international competitions.

Athletics Ireland, meanwhile, now stage their Congress on a biennial basis, and delegates will gather in Cork at the end of next month, April 27/28th. There will be no election for the presidency as Ciarán Ó Catháin will be returned unopposed for another two-year term. One of the main matters up for discussion is the future of national cross country competitions.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics