Seán Hehir admits ‘frustration’ at lack of roadmap for return of competition

Two-time national marathon champion believes events could take place in Ireland

Two-time national marathon champion Seán Hehir has urged Athletics Ireland to present a roadmap for a return to competition this summer, suggesting there is a “massive disparity” in the way some sports are dealing with the remaining restrictions around Covid-19.

Hehir was one of several Irish athletes forced to travel to the UK last month in order to run a competitive marathon in advance of the Tokyo qualifying cut-off date of May 31st, running in the Cheshire Elite Marathon where Cork runner Aoife Cooke secured the necessary standard in the women's race, improving her personal best by almost four minutes to 2:28.36

“No doubt about it, there is a lot of frustration in the Irish athletics community,” said Hehir. “Events aren’t being facilitated, it’s as simple as that. And it is resulting in Irish athletes having to race abroad with all the risks that that entails. Events that could be facilitated here.

"Massive credit to English athletics for facilitating the event over in Cheshire. I know that Jim Aughney [Dublin marathon race director] had hoped to try and facilitate something here. The reality is what went on over in Cheshire could have been facilitated here. We wouldn't have been putting athletes at risk, we wouldn't have had to take the risks with travel, they wouldn't have had to take unpaid leave, isolating from family and loved ones and so yeah, I think it's been a very frustrating time.

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“As things stand, there is a possibility that a generation of athletes are losing out, juvenile athletes, club runners, intermediates, seniors, masters, elites, it’s frustrating, very frustrating.”

Hehir won the Dublin Marathon outright in 2013, was the first Irish finisher again in 2015, and speaking at the announcement around the 2021 KBC Dublin Marathon, pointed to a number of elite-events that have taken place, including the Irish swimming trials last month.

“Can we see a roadmap? A roadmap in terms of how things will go? I understand that the Irish athletics community is grounded in a community of volunteers, that goes without saying. But we have professionals in the organisation who are tasked with getting events on, putting events out there, a road map in terms of what can be enabled and facilitated whether on a regional or county level, a provincial level, national level.

“Let us know what is in the pipeline, let us know what is on the horizon, let us know there is light at the end of the tunnel, instead of ‘sitting on our hands, our hands are tied, Sport Ireland are to blame, Government are to blame, there is limited merit to putting on events’.”

According to the latest statement made available by Athletics Ireland, “outdoor training for adults in pods of a maximum of 15 people” can resume from May 10th, with no indication yet of a return to competition”.

Hehir added: “We saw a few weeks ago the British marathon trials were facilitated in Kew Gardens, an excellent event, limited fields. A number of us were pushing for that with the relevant people in the association and we got the limited merit argument, ‘not really a will for it’.

“If we can have 30 guys on a pitch and 60 on the sidelines knocking lumps out of each other, why you can’t you have 10-15 athletes competing on a track competing? There’s a massive disparity there. So let’s get a roadmap up and running for Irish athletes so we’re not going to miss out on opportunities and we’ve something to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead.”

On the separate matter of Olympic-qualified athletes either seeking or being presenting with a vaccine prior to departure to Tokyo, Cooke added: I don’t have any expectations about getting vaccinated. Obviously the vaccine roll-out has been a bit up and down in Ireland and the EU – I don’t expect to be vaccinated or anything like that.

“It would be great if we were, but the way the Olympics is being organised, they are doing everything to make it as safe as possible, regardless of whether you are vaccinated or not, with the testing and social distancing and everything like that.”