Athletes left frustrated as UCC track to remain closed until late July

Athletes left frustrated as UCC track to remain closed until late July
Running tracks were permitted to reopen from May 18 onward, but the locks remain up at the two tracks, UCC and CIT, in Cork City. Picture Denis Minihane

It will be late July, at the earliest, before the athletics track at UCC’s Mardyke Arena reopens.

Running tracks were permitted to reopen from May 18 onward, but the locks remain up at the two tracks - UCC and CIT - in Cork city.

A spokesperson for CIT yesterday admitted no provisional date has been set for reopening the track at the college’s Bishopstown campus.

There is frustration among local athletes - some of whom are preparing for next summer’s Olympic Games - that both college-run tracks in Cork city remain off-limits while athletes in other parts of the country have enjoyed access to their local track for the past month.

Irish 50km racewalker Brendan Boyce, who lives and trains in Cork, recently remarked on social media that the continued closure of the CIT and UCC tracks highlights the clear need for a track in Cork run by an athletics club.

His coach, former World champion Rob Heffernan, has said it is “demoralising” for athletes attempting to progress in their event to not have track access.

Cork native and Irish steeplechaser Michelle Finn told this newspaper a fortnight ago she was considering relocating to Dublin as it would guarantee her track access.

UCC Director of Sport and Physical Activity Morgan Buckley appreciates the frustration of athletes who have not set foot on the Mardyke track since mid-March. 

His department has written to local clubs to explain how the Mardyke Arena is not a “standalone track facility” and it is not as straightforward as lifting the locks to allow runners return to the tartan surface.

“We've got to make sure we can offer a proper environment that complies with the regulations and also complies with the whole operation of the campus. I am sure athletes would love to be out there running on the track, but we are just not cleared to go at the moment.

“We are currently mapping out a detailed return-to-play protocol for all of our facilities at the Mardyke and the Farm, Curraheen. 

"When we finish putting our new protocols in place for how we will operate upon reopening, they will go to the campus and business continuity committee, which the University has set up, for approval. 

"That is being chaired by the head of legal affairs. We don't anticipate being open before the middle to end of July.

“The big challenge we face is we are multi-sport. We have over 40 outdoor teams that we cater for, plus massive external users. It is not a track on its own. 

"You'd have maybe soccer going on, rugby going on, GAA going on, athletics groups, and each one of these has got their own return-to-play protocols.

"They have got to go through their own NGB protocols and processes, which include putting in place return-to-play officers, Covid-19 officers, and detailed tracking of all the members and coaches, so it is not like we are dealing with one sport. We are dealing with 55 different sports in UCC.”

Buckley added: “The Mardyke Arena is going through a detailed exercise to see how they refurbish the layout because there are so many users, so many different groups, and making sure it all complies with social distancing. It is actually very complex.”

In CIT, the picture is far less clear. Unlike UCC, there is no targeted date for reopening. 

"There is not even a provisional date for reopening, news which is certain to vex athletes who trained at the facility on a weekly basis pre-lockdown.

Those involved in athletics at the college are today due to sit down with senior CIT staff and it is hoped this meeting will bring about a degree of clarity as to when the track might reopen.

“At the moment we don’t have a date for reopening, provisional or otherwise,” said a CIT spokesperson yesterday.

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