The director of the Irish Milers Club meeting in Belfast later this month has urged Athletics Ireland to reconsider his request to support a European permit, which would afford competing athletes the chance to gain valuable ranking points towards Tokyo Olympic qualification.
Set for the Mary Peters Track in Belfast on Saturday week, May 29th, a European permit was originally awarded last December, after an application by meeting director Eamonn Christie, the long-serving athletics coach in Belfast who previously worked with the likes of Ciara Mageean.
In recent weeks, however, it emerged that application had to be supported by Athletics Ireland, and not just signed off on their behalf by Christie, along with Michael McGovern of the Irish Milers Club. Christie openly admits the error, which resulted in European Athletics revoking the permit having been contacted by Athletics Ireland, although the re-granting of that permit is still possible with Athletics Ireland support.
“I will certainly hold my hands up on that, call it my inexperience, or my naivety, but I didn’t realise I had to go through the national federation,” Christie told The Irish Times. “I’ve made them [Athletics Ireland] well aware of that. And I did eat humble pie, I did apologise, writing them a couple of emails, begging them not to stop the permit.”
In response to the matter, Athletics Ireland did issue a short statement on Thursday afternoon: “Athletics Ireland only became aware of the Belfast Irish Milers Meet application for a European Athletics permit recently. European Athletics withdrew their permit for this Meet due to administrative concerns.”
Several Irish Tokyo contenders are still set to compete, including Phil Healy in the 200m, Mark English in the 800m, Andrew Coscoran and Paul Robinson in the 1,500m, along with emerging distance running talents such as Cian McPhillips, Luke McCann and John Fitzsimons. A special invite has also been extended to the Irish women's 4x200m squad of Aoife Lynch, Kate Doherty, Sarah Quinn and Sophie Becker, who finished second in the event at the recent World Athletics Relays.
The meeting still has a UK level two permit, which means any Tokyo qualifying time, underage record, etc will stand: “It’s the extra ranking points that most athletes are after at this stage,” said Christie. “Almost all the runners I’ve contacted are still coming, which is reassuring, because we have been preparing for a long time now to put on an excellent track meet, with quality sponsors and we also have prize money.
“Athletics Ireland say they were only made aware of this meeting over the last two weeks, when I’ve been trying to promote this meeting, more than I normally would, trying to get athletes involved, from early March. But there’s no budging them. Even though I do have the permit from Northern Ireland Athletics, which gives me insurance, and I have all the Covid-19 restrictions in place, all the first aid, all that.
“The big thing for me is that they’re denying their own athletes the chance to get ranking points for Tokyo. That’s what this meeting is about, helping our home-grown athletes to get points towards Tokyo qualification. European Athletics are saying to me, even at this stage, that once they sign the form, there’s no problem. There is no deadline, they are saying. But if Athletics Ireland won’t sign the permit, it will be 2022 before they can re-engage on the matter.”