Sprinter shares heartfelt plea to allow his ‘dream’ of running for Ireland

An English-born sprinter with an Irish mother has written a heartfelt open letter to IAAF President Seb Coe pleading with him to grant his “dream” transfer to Ireland, writes Stephen Barry.

Leon Reid first made formal contact with Ireland about a transfer of allegiance over a year ago in honour of his mother, who passed away last year.

However, the 22-year-old says his application was mishandled by British Athletics after they were approached by Athletics Ireland last January and, subsequently, a freeze on international transfers was introduced by the IAAF in February.

Leon Reid with his gold medals from winning the Men's 200m and Men's 60m Finals during the Irish Life Health National Senior Indoor Championships. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

A European U23 and Junior silver medallist with Team GB, Reid ran two personal bests in finishing third at the recent British Championships, including a run of 20.38 seconds, to achieve the 200m qualification standard for the World Championships.

The final date of selection for the championships, which will be held in London’s Olympic Stadium next month, is Sunday, July 23.

Reid’s letter is written under six headings: background, dedication, transfer from GB to Ireland, duty of care, loss of earnings and compassion.

He begins by noting that the IAAF cleared eight athletes from the banned Russian athletics system to compete as neutrals, and asks for his case to receive similar compassion from Coe.

Ippei Takeda, left, Leon Reid, centre, and Lebokeng Sesele competing in the Men's 100m Race 1 during Cork City Sports at CIT. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

“I am an extremely dedicated athlete,” writes Reid. “As a child who grew up in the care system, the concentration of energy, focus and discipline demanded by my dream of becoming a professional athlete proved to be my salvation.

“To work so hard for something and potentially have it cruelly taken away from me is even harder to take knowing how hard the past two years have been.

“My biological mother is Irish, and my foster mother is second generation Irish. I have many Irish family members and strong links and affinity to the country. It has long been a dream of mine to one day compete for Ireland internationally — a decision which was ultimately made in honour of my mum who passed away last year.”

Leon Reid competing in the Men's 200m Heats during the Irish Life Health National Senior Indoor Championships. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

He adds that the governing bodies have a duty of care to enable him to compete, saying “I don't want to be a victim of other people's oversights or even a political situation”.

He notes that he would lose a significant amount in earnings and prestige, before ending with a personal appeal to Coe, himself a four-time Olympic medallist.

“I ask you to look at my case and view it from an athlete's perspective — from my perspective. All I want is to have the chance to compete. If I don't compete I will never know how good I can be.

“I am personally asking you to be compassionate and allow me the opportunity to pursue my dream.”

You can read Reid’s letter in full below:

Open Letter to the IAAF — 20th July 2017-07-17

Dear Lord Coe,

I read in the news today that 8 Russian athletes originally banned from a system tainted with drugs have been approved to compete at the World Championships.

This has prompted this open letter in an anticipative hope that you will personally look at my case and help me achieve my dreams of competing in London — like you have with these Russian athletes.

Background

Just over two weeks ago at the British National Championships I ran two big personal bests (one in the heat and one in the final) in the 200m. Ultimately I ran 20.38 seconds and finished third — a time quick enough to qualify me for the World Championships. I won't however be able to take my place on the British Team because I am in the process of transferring to Ireland — an unsuccessful process that has unfortunately already taken over 12 months thus far.

Despite running the qualifying time, matters outside of my control will jeopardise this chance — ultimately meaning I won't be able to compete.

I was unable to take my place on the Ireland team as my current transfer from Great Britain to Ireland has been held up as a result of the IAAF freeze of movement of athletes from one country to another. I am scared that with the final date for selection this Sunday 23' July that my international transfer will not go through and I will miss out on competing in London in August.

This is despite the transfer process starting well before the freeze came into place, and had it been handled diligently it would have been completed.

Dedication

I am an extremely dedicated athlete. As a child who grew up in the care system, the concentration of energy, focus and discipline demanded by my dream of becoming a professional athlete proved to be my salvation. I train full-time with my coach James Hillier and my training partners who include recent European Under 23 Gold Medallist Cameron Chalmers, World Championship Hurdler Dave King and Olympic Bronze Medallist Emily Diamond. I work three jobs to fund my athletics and whilst I get some support from Northern Ireland Athletics, I have had to put my life and my work career significantly on hold as I try to reach my athletic potential.

To work so hard for something and potentially have it cruelly taken away from me is even harder to take knowing how hard the past two years have been.

Transfer from GB to Ireland

My biological mother is Irish, and my foster mother is second generation Irish. I have many Irish family members and strong links and affinity to the country. It has long been a dream of mine to one day compete for Ireland internationally — a decision which was ultimately made in honour of my mum who passed away last year. This dream became closer to a reality when I formally contacted Ireland on June 22nd 2016 to start the paperwork process. I spoke to Neil Black, Performance Director of British Athletics and he assured me British Athletics would not prevent this move.

When an athlete moves from one country to another the new member federation (in this case Ireland) need to make a request to the current member federation (in this case British Athletics) to request confirmation on matters such as when the athlete last competed for GB and whether they would have any objections to the athlete moving.

Ireland Athletics formally contacted British Athletics in January of this year after some contact and formalities had been concluded with the IAAF. This was done a month in advance of the transfer freeze kicking in.

Despite having no issues with my transfer, this unfortunate failure by British Athletics in replying resulted in Ireland being powerless to push this transfer through with the IAAF.

Duty of Care

As an athlete that has dedicated my whole life to compete in events such as this I don't want to miss out on the opportunity to compete by right on the biggest stage. I have run fast enough to be in the Ireland team and I believe that a duty lies with the governing, professional or representative bodies, nationally or otherwise, to help and enable me to compete.

I have found it extremely hard to get any concrete answers from British Athletics in particular. I have been told that things have been said or that emails have been sent to various people only to subsequently find that they haven't. I feel people within the organisation are not acting in my best interests. My understanding of a governing body is that part of their responsibility is to help athletes. I have given them many opportunities to rectify any mistakes they have made (we are all human) and help me, but they seem to be more interested in helping or protecting themselves and blaming others. They might be 'busy' with other work but this is my life and my future that they are playing with. These individuals who are paid not an insubstantial salary from the public purse seem to be unaccountable and reluctant to take ownership despite the devastating consequences for me.

British Athletics should have replied to Ireland Athletics. They didn't, and they are now unwilling to try and help me or take this to the IAAF to help rectify their mistake. This has now crafted an unfortunate chain of events that has concluded with me finding no other place to turn other than this open letter which I hope will encourage those who were negligent in their duties to come forward, and put their hands up to their failure to act in a responsible and timely manner. Had they done so, my transfer would have concluded prior to the international transfer embargo.

I want to reiterate. All I want to do is compete. I have nothing against British Athletics — I just need them to help me. I did everything I could to get the transfer done in time — I don't want to be a victim of other people's oversights or even a political situation.

Loss of Earnings

If I don't compete I could lose tens of thousands of pounds in lost funding, sponsorships and races. That is not to mention the money that I have already lost due to the length of time this process has taken.

I will also lose the opportunity to compete in the 'best' and most supported World Championships in front of a home crowd. I will lose out on the opportunity to create my own history. That's something that money simply cannot buy.

Compassion

Lord Coe you were an incredible athlete. You were one of my heroes growing up. You will appreciate how amazing it is to compete at the highest levels and I know you wouldn't have wanted to miss out because of the actions of others. You will doubtless be all too aware of just how different a route your own life and career could have taken if it had. You saw first hand what was happening politically in the early 1980's with various boycotts and I'm sure you don't want to see a situation like that manifest itself again. I ask you to look at my case and view it from an athlete's perspective — from my perspective. All I want is to have the chance to compete. If I don't compete I will never know how good I can be.

I am personally asking you to be compassionate and allow me the opportunity to pursue my dream.

Yours Sincerely,

Leon Reid


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