By Brendan O’Brien
Paul and Gary O’Donovan’s bid to win another Olympic rowing medal, in Tokyo in 2020, is being jeopardised by a shortage in funding that has left the Skibbereen pair making do with a four-year-old boat.
The O’Donovans became national heroes in 2016 when they claimed silver in the men’s lightweight double sculls in Rio and the sport’s reputation for excellence has been cemented further since, with Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan crowned world champions in the lightweight men’s pair at the World Championships in Florida last year, while Paul O’Donovan defended his lightweight single sculls title.
However, Rowing Ireland chief executive Hamish Adams warned an Oireachtas committee on sport yesterday that the lack of necessary funds is a major worry for their elite athletes, as they seek to book their places in Japan in two years’ time.
“We require further investment to maintain the levels of participation and performance that we are currently delivering,” he said. “We are very proud to say that we have three world champions and Olympic silver medallists — in the O’Donovan brothers — from Rio.
“Unfortunately, at this point in time, they will be trying to qualify for Tokyo in boats that are four years old. That is a huge challenge. We had applied for funding through the Sports Capital grant and, unfortunately, even though our bid was valid, we did not receive funding.”
Rowing boats, like those used in sailing, lose their rigidity and speed over time, leaving their crews at a disadvantage against better-funded competitors. Hence the need for the investment in new equipment.
Rowing Ireland made a number of different applications totalling €550,000 under the Sports Capital Programme. Money for new boats was one of them. They received €66,000, but none of that was for the purpose of sourcing new boats.
Adams was among a number of representatives from the sports industry to meet Government ministers yesterday and explain the need to increase funding to minority sports. He made the point that an extra 10% in funds could lead to a doubling in participation levels in rowing.
Mary O’Connor, chief executive of the Federation of Irish Sport, told members of both houses that New Zealand, a country that is regularly compared to Ireland, due to population sizes, commits $250m (€146m) to its high-performance sports brief over a four-year period.
John Treacy, Sport Ireland chief executive, calculated that €10m per annum is the figure currently being handed over to the sector here and that it needed to rise by another €7m.
“We are losing ground on our competitors,” he warned.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.