Sonia O’Sullivan: Cancellation of Cork City Sports and Morton Games seems premature

There must be some effort made to cater for Irish athletes lacking race options

Ciara Mageean competing in the Morton Games in Santry. The event has  been cancelled for the second successive year.  Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho Morton Stadium, Santry, Dublin

Ciara Mageean competing in the Morton Games in Santry. The event has been cancelled for the second successive year. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho Morton Stadium, Santry, Dublin

 

How sad and disappointing was the announcement this week that for the second year running the Cork City Sports and the Morton Games in Santry were both postponed again until 2022. Especially given they are still three months away.

This was an acceptable loss last year, as we didn’t know all that we know now; this year it seems more like a panic decision, without any thought to what we can do to keep in people’s minds at least something to aim for and to look forward to.

I have so many special memories from racing in Cork down through the years and the energy from the crowd as I would race around the final bend of the Mardyke track. In recent years I’ve seen what it means to local athletes and the fans and the local organisers who put their heart and soul into putting on an attractive meeting with great competitive races each year.

These events represented the one glimmer of hope that athletes may get some competition on home soil ahead of the Olympics in July. Those hopes have now been dashed.

It’s understandable given the difficulty of flying in athletes from around the world, as Cork and Santry both pride themselves on the quantity and quality of international athletes they attract each year.

Still, I think there should be some effort made to accommodate Irish athletes who will be left lacking race options once more; and the athletes in the tier below international level are the ones that will suffer the most.

Two years in a row without events to look forward to, competition to rise to, will have devastating effects on the development of young athletes, particularly those emerging from the junior ranks. Already gone too are the European Under-18 Championships.

There is still some hope that the European Under-23 competition will go ahead in Norway, but you can’t just turn up without much race preparation and expect to be able to compete with the best in Europe.

To me it all seems a little premature to cancel completely when it is possible in three months’ time the risk could be a lot lower across the board than it currently is due to the continued vaccine rollout.

It is a step-by-step process to get sport back to normal levels but it can be done safely and with distancing

I also think it’s too early to start wiping the calendar when we see what so many other sports have been able to do, and to change what once seemed impossible into a safe manageable event.

This is the perfect example in sport where a pivot is required, some vision and game-changing decisions to keep the sport of athletics alive for the summer.

Clubs and community groups up and down the country have been creative and energetic, motivating young children to stay fit and active throughout the year. I know that because I have had numerous requests for videos encouraging and helping to motivate and drive the momentum, to keep things going when the competitions that provide purpose to the daily training keep getting erased from the calendar.

Bottom up

The sport is being driven from the bottom up, from the parents and volunteers who see the impact at all levels without any leg-up from the leaders of our sport to provide help and assistance. You would think those in charge of the sport would be open to change and encouraging action as opposed to sitting on their hands waiting for the gates to open.

There is so much evidence around the world of events that can be carried out safely behind closed doors or even with limited capacity. It was such a joy to drive past fields and parks last summer and hear the young children back training and competing; this is getting further and further away and it’s at the point now where we need sports back for the physical and mental health of all children.

It is a step-by-step process to get sport back to normal levels but it can be done safely and with distancing, and every option needs to be looked at to get things rolling back with small steps so that in time it will be seamless.

Local man Rob Heffernan on his way to winning the 3km walk at the Cork City Sports last night. Photograph: Inpho
Local man Rob Heffernan on his way to winning the 3km walk at the Cork City Sports in 2013. File photograph: Inpho

I’ve seen it already in Australia: as soon as schools started back, sport started back and it all fell into place in a very short space of time. And people naturally keep their distance when in a group just taking that one step back.

Already this week we have been given the results of data collection in Ireland that outdoor activities are one of the least high-risk categories for transmitting the Covid-19 Virus; just 0.1 per cent of all cases can be linked to outdoor activity. That is 1 in a 1000 cases linked to an outdoor sporting event.

Athletes will jump at the opportunity to compete and follow the guidelines if it allows the event to continue

Late last year, the Japanese athletics federation reported that where 571,401 athletes, 98,035 officials and staff took part in 787 races and track meetings from July 1st to October 4th, all this resulted in only one single case of someone involved contracting Covid-19 in the following two weeks.

Now is the time to implement safe gatherings using all the risk management tools we have gathered throughout the past year. The summer will come and go, and so much will be lost if we do not act now and make quick decisions.

Why not plan for pop-up events, with short lead in times, even if quick stoppage is required? It would be better to have the possibility of an event taking place than wiping the event altogether.

County championships

Athletes will jump at the opportunity to compete and follow the guidelines if it allows the event to continue. We have to each be responsible for our own actions but also act with the safety of others in mind using all the information we have, alongside common sense but also finding a way to make things happen.

There needs to be small pockets working to facilitate events in corners of the country where everyone can get to an event close to home. A bit like the Indoor Micro-Meets on a greater scale made possible due to the greater safety outdoors and more accessible venues throughout the country.

One idea could be to reimagine a county championships with greater promotion, aiming for a provisional championships could then also go ahead with top-three qualifying from county championships, and then again top-three to the national championships.

There’s usually a greater meaning to a championship if it becomes a means of qualifying to the next level rather than simply entering. You get the satisfaction of achievement and the challenge of competing at a higher level.

The motivation also increases as you’ve earned your right to be there again, and it also focuses on promoting competition from the bottom up and remembering the importance of where it all began for so many of us in the local sporting field.

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