Gloves off for good as Colm Barrington steps down from Olympics role
Chairman of Irish Sailing’s Olympic Steering Group passing the baton to Patrick Coveney
Colm Barrington: “It’s great to see all the young people coming through and competing at international events on the continent and around the world.” Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Previously known for his successful series of “Gloves” racing yachts that he skippered, the former Aer Lingus chairman led the group that supervised a significant overhaul of the “performance” end of the sport.
The ultimate objective of the performance system is medal-winning results at the Olympic Games, but delivering this has seen the emergence of the pathway system that maps out the route for Ireland’s most talented young sailors.
Unsurprisingly, Barrington cites Annalise Murphy’s silver medal at Rio 2016 as the high point of his term and praised the double-Olympian for her work-rate that delivered the result.
Speaking to The Irish Times, he also acknowledged the extensive behind-the-scenes work that has brought the sport to medal-winning level.
“Most importantly, the Pathway system is working,” he said. “It’s great to see all the young people coming through and competing at international events on the continent and around the world.
“But while it’s a good system, we still have a long way to go.”
Money remains a big obstacle for an equipment-based sport, and, while Sport Ireland funding has made a big difference, the financial challenge has led to the creation of the Irish Sailing Foundation to bridge the gap.
One of the foundation’s early achievements is the Sailing Performance Base in Dún Laoghaire that is expected to be in full-time use from next season.
“The challenges are still there and the reality is that we have a relatively small sailing community,” Barrington said. “There is also limited interest [in performance] from within that small community.”
So, what is his parting advice?
“My outgoing message, to the board of Irish Sailing in particular and also the sailing community, is that if you’re going to engage in a competitive way, then do it right, do it better and do it well.”
He reckons that further professionalisation is needed in the sport to deliver on this goal and cites his own experiences running big-boat campaigns that relied on pro sailors to support his otherwise amateur crews.
Meanwhile, Greencore CEO Patrick Coveney has succeeded Barrington as the new chairman of the OSG.
While Ireland has yet to qualify any sailors for Tokyo 2020, the 2018 season saw Liam Glynn win bronze at the Under-21 Laser Standard World Championships while Robert Dickson with Sean Waddilove won gold in the U23 49er skiff World Championship at the Paris 2024 Olympic venue.
Currently, there are 25 athletes directly managed by the OSG, with funding from Sport Ireland and the Irish Sailing Foundation.
On the broader pathway, next year’s Youth Sailing National Championships scheduled for Easter Week at the Royal Cork Yacht Club is expected to attract in excess of 200 crews from around the country.