The Flora Woman’s Mini Marathon was forced into a U-turn after its refusal to allow a blind woman to run with a male guide caused a social media outcry.
Youghal solicitor Sinead Kane is a visually impaired athlete who had already competed in the mini-marathon two years ago.
However, after competing in the 50km national championships in Donadea in February and becoming the first visually impaired person to complete an ultra marathon, she wanted to rerun the event which started her off running — this time with male guide Irish international level ultra runner John O’Regan.
However, when Mr O’Regan contacted the organisers of the event, he was told he could not act as a guide for Sinead as it was a female only event.
“When we were discussing it, John said: I’ll get onto the mini marathon office, it shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll get onto them to tell them, just out of courtesy, that I am going to be a male guide.’ And they responded saying: Oh well, no, it’s a female event only. I suppose I was a bit shocked and John was a bit disappointed because John is very passionate about sport and inclusion and he’s very empathetic about disability. So John said I am not leaving this here,” Sinead told Today FM.
John contacted the Sports Council who, along with the Athletics Ireland, offered to look for a female guide with Sinead’s permission — an offer she found degrading.
“I don’t want them picking any random person out of the sky. It’s very degrading to me — ‘oh, we’ll just find her anybody to get her around’. I’m there because I want to compete,” she said.
Following a massive social media outcry, with people pointing out that men commonly run in the event dressed as women, organisers of the Flora mini-marathon issued a statement stating they had changed the rules to allow both male and female guides for competitors who are visually impaired or in a wheelchair.
Deputy CEO of the Flora women’s mini-marathon Kathy Enderson said she was looking forward to seeing Sinead compete in the race again this year.
“We have always welcomed visually impaired and wheelchair athletes in the event and do our utmost to facilitate their needs. Sinead Kane participated in our event in 2012 where she came second in the visually impaired category and we look forward to receiving her entry for this year and wish her every success,” she said.
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