Row over Belfast athletics meeting sees European permit restored

Permit affords competing athletes the chance to gain valuable ranking points

The director of the Irish Milers club meeting in Belfast this Saturday is “absolutely ecstatic” that Athletics Ireland has conceded to his request to support a European permit, which now affords competing athletes the chance to gain valuable ranking points towards Tokyo Olympic qualification.

This day last week Eamonn Christie had urged the governing body to support the meeting, which had originally been granted a European permit last December, only for Athletics Ireland to revoke it earlier last week "due to administrative concerns".

For Christie, the long-serving athletics coach in Belfast who previously worked with the likes of Ciara Mageean, the restoring of the European permit means Irish athletes such as Phil Healy, Mark English and Michelle Finn can now chase Toyko ranking points which otherwise would not have been available.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic, and over the moon for the athletes,” he said. “I know this is the news a lot of the competing athletes wanted to hear, and I’d like to thank Athletics Ireland, and Northern Ireland Athletics and UK Athletics, for their assistance.”

Several Irish Tokyo contenders are set to compete, including Healy in the 100m and 200m, 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, John Fitzsimons and Harry Purcell, with a special invite also extended to the Irish women's 4x200m squad who finished second in the event at the recent World Athletics Relays (Aoife Lynch, Kate Doherty, Sarah Quinn and Sophie Becker).

Set for the Mary Peters Track in Belfast, a European permit was originally awarded last December, after an application by Christie: 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 had openly admitted the error, which resulted in European Athletics revoking the permit having been contacted by Athletics Ireland, although the re-granting of that permit was still possible with Athletics Ireland support.

In their initial 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.”

Christie also told The Irish Times that any administrative error had nothing to do with eligibility of the meeting in terms of standards or criteria; it was simply a misunderstanding on the application:

“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 explained. “I did eat humble pie, I did apologise, writing them a couple of emails, begging them not to stop the permit.”

The re-granting of the permit completes the stage for what will likely be the best athletics meeting north or south this year, given the cancellation of the Cork City Sports and the Morton Games. In all, Christie has attracted 286 athletes, in a range of events from the 100m to the 5,000m: "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."

With the European permit, Belfast is now categorised as a D-level meeting, which means the winner of each event will secure 35-40 placing points. The meeting will also be available to live stream via the Down AC website.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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