Women to the fore as Sports Ireland announce Olympic grants

Of the 24 athletes who received maximum funding of €40k, 12 are women

A sign of the times. In the haul of 80 medals from Ireland’s high performance athletes at world, European and Paralympics events across all levels in 2019, 45 of those were won by female athletes.

Irish male athletes brought in a little more than half the women’s total with 25 medals with 10 medals coming from mixed team events.

As Sport Ireland (SI) announced their €36 million investment in Tokyo 2020 preparations, national governing bodies and local sports partnerships, the profile of women athletes has begun to impact, at least among elite athletes with the top €40,000 podium grants split evenly between men and women.

There were 24 athletes out of 116 funded individuals who earned the maximum level of funding, of which 12 were women. No more so than in boxing, which will stage European qualifying events for Tokyo in London and Paris in March but which continues to feed off the Katie Taylor legacy.

Taylor was the lone Irish woman in London 2012, when she won lightweight gold in the first year women’s boxing became part of the Olympic Games roster. Almost eight years on, three of the four Irish boxers on the €40,000 podium grant are women, Kellie Harrington, Michaela Walsh and Aoife O’Rourke with Kurt Walker the only male hitting the top mark. Quite a turnaround.

“A huge amount of this and female boxing in general goes down to Katie Taylor. It’s the Katie Taylor effect. She’s pioneered, really been the trail blazer for women’s boxing throughout the world and Ireland has absolutely benefited,” said IABA CEO Fergal Carruth.

Rowing was the biggest winner in the individual Carding scheme with six athletes drawing the maximum amount with Gary O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy along with Sanita Puspure among the medal hopes in Tokyo.

Athletics picked up three maximum awards in Thomas Barr, Ciara Mageean and Brendan Boyce.

The one name missing from the allocations was sailing’s Annalise Murphy, who won a silver medal in Rio 2016 in the Laser Radial. Murphy took time out after Rio and joined Dee Cafari’s team on a Volvo 65 yacht to compete in the Volvo Round the World Ocean race before trying her hand in the 48erFX class with Katie Tingle.

But that was team effort discontinued last year and Murphy is again competing to sail the laser boat, which has been qualified for Tokyo. Sailing Ireland is helping to fund her.

Carding scheme

It is estimated by SI that to send a team to Tokyo will cost €2.25 million. Boxing and Rugby Sevens have yet to hold qualifying events with more significant costs attached to getting boats and horses to the venues.

In golf Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry are expected to fly directly to Tokyo from the British Open which finishes on July 19th. The Tokyo golf event, with Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow on the women’s team, begins on July 30th with Neil Manchip the team manager. .

Funding has risen 26 per cent since the Rio Games finished with this year’s individual carding scheme drawing €2.43 million. There was a commitment made last year to multi-annual funding so that athletes could plan long-term programs rather than one year to the next.

“Our targets are that we’d like to get three to five medals,” said Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy.

“When you look at London, the most successful with six medals . . . Rio was quite different. I think Tokyo will be a better environment for competing. I’ve been to Japan myself many times as an athlete and official and they do things second to none. It will be organised extremely well. The athletes will be treated exceptionally well.”

There are medals targets already set for Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles 2028, although, Tracy was unwilling to get into the numbers.

There was €13.8 million given to the core activity of the 58 NGOs with €8.3 million going to 29 local sports partnerships. A figure of €9.4 million was allocated to supporting the high performance programs and Tokyo 2020.

Treacy added that any Government bailout money used to fund the sinking FAI will have no impact on other sports or the future funding of elite Irish athletes.

Top Podium Grant €40,000

Athletics (Thomas Barr, Ciara Mageean, Brendan Boyce;

Cycling Para (Katie George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal) €60,000;

Gymnastics ( Rhys McClenaghan);

Boxing (Kellie Harrington, Michaela Walsh, Aoife Burke, Kurt Walker);

Paralympics Athletics (Jason Smyth, Michael McKillop, Naimh McCarthy, Noelle Lenihan;

Paralympics Swimming (Ellen Keane, Nicol Turner);

Pentathlon (Arthur Lanigan-O'Keefe, Natalya Coyle);

Rowing (Paul O'Donovan, Gary O'Donovan, Sanita Puspure, Ronan Byrne, Philip Doyle, Fintan McCarthy),

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times