Paralympics Ireland launches seven-year medal strategy
‘No easy medals at world level now’, says CEO Miriam Malone
President of Paralympics Ireland, John Fulham: ‘The Paralympic environment is very different to what it was even 10 years ago.’ Photograph: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Paralympics Ireland has launched a new seven-year strategy that will focus solely and unapologetically on winning global medals with its elite athletes.
Its shift of focus means that the recruitment and development of athletes with disabilities, from entry level up to international standard, will now rest on national governing bodies and multisport organisations like the Irish Wheelchair Association and Blindsport Ireland.
Paralympics Ireland (PI) says the change is necessary because of the soaring standards in Paralympic sport worldwide and outlined its 2019-2025 plan in a document called Success Takes More.
It wants to rank top five in the world, per capita, at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics – as it did in Rio 2016 – and to improve further to top three by Paris 2024.
“There are no easy medals at world level now,” said Paralympics Ireland (PI) CEO Miriam Malone.
“Success means our athletes have to work even harder than ever and it takes more from us now also, as an organisation, to support them.”
Ireland won 11 medals (four gold) at Rio 2016 which ranked it 28th overall but fifth on the per capita scale.
“The Paralympic environment is very different to what it was even 10 years ago,” stressed PI president John Fulham.
“There’s changes in technology, training and technique and, as the Paralympic movement grows, the money is pouring into it internationally to create more opportunities. If we don’t react to that now it becomes a threat, not an opportunity.”
Paralympics Ireland will concentrate especially on its three existing gold medal sports – athletics, swimming and cycling – and has pledged to self-generate over 40 per cent of its funding by 2021.
But casting aside its previous participation remit will raise some eyebrows.
The organisation says it will continue to work with individual governing bodies (NGBs) to develop their own pathways and, to copper-fasten this, will sign memorandums of agreements with them.
“This doesn’t mean we won’t be working with the national governing bodies and helping to get the participation and development work done elsewhere,” Fulham said.
“If we don’t do that then 2024 and 2028 would be a very barren landscape in terms of athletes.
“The (sporting) opportunities are still there for people with disabilities. There’s a vast network of NGBs, they are your first port of call on the ground. That pathway is still there, the world is your oyster.
“This is a statement of confidence in the athletes that we already have,” he stressed. “We believe they can do it. They’ve got it right every time so far, and we firmly believe that, if we can adapt, then they will keep doing it.”
Sligo and UCD swimmer Patrick Flanagan, who missed a European Championship S6 freestyle 400m medal by less than two tenths of a second last summer, said: “To see that the governing body’s goals are so completely aligned with mine around elite performance is huge.This could make that tiny difference between finishing fourth and on the podium.”
Patrick O’Leary, Ireland’s first ever Paralympic canoeist in Rio 2016, said the competition and standards in his sport are constantly evolving.
“I got to the Nottingham Regatta every year for an initial test to see where I am and this year GB had five fully-funded athletes in each of my two events.
“The guy who finished fifth was European champion last year, and the guy who finished fourth was third in the Worlds last year. The standard is constantly rising and they’re constantly identifying new athletes and pushing each other on. That’s going on across all nations.”