Aquatic Centre a facility for everybody, not just for the elite

THE spectacular success of the opening session of the Special Olympics at the €63m National Aquatic Centre yesterday should prove the catalyst for the completion of the ambitious Campus Ireland development, in the opinion of Liam Bohan, director of the Centre.

The €63m euro facility reverberated with excitement as a huge programme of races was completed in some style.

The breath-taking scale of the main competitive pool and stadium and the flexibility that meant the leisure centre was simultaneously in full swing for members of the public illustrated the special quality of the development.

Mr Bohan, a former Irish international swimmer and coach, took a proud overview of the operation and said: "The facility would not be here if it wasn't for the Special Olympics and we are very, very grateful for that.

"In terms of giving more profile to the facility, I think it obviously will be of enormous benefit.

"We are very, very pleased that the Special Olympics is here; very, very happy with the way it is running so far. I've no doubt it will help to make people more and more aware of what we have here in Dublin."

He made specific reference to the existence of two adjoining facilities that are far in advance, in both concept and in scale, of any other aquatic centre in this country and said:

"Having two facilities of this scale is so important because people are not deprived. With competition going on in here we have a leisure pool open to the general public they are in there splashing around and it was built with that in mind.

"The Special Olympics was the catalyst for this facility and maybe this facility might be the catalyst to bring on Campus Ireland."

Mr Bohan is also a director of the aquatic centre in Tralee and he said the experience the directors of the company had gained over the years gave them a unique insight into the requirements of the Irish public when it came to leisure activity.

Since the centre was opened to the public on March 4 they had logged a total of 180,000 visitors, well ahead of their own projections.

The growing popularity of the centre would be boosted further by the successful promotion of the Special Olympics.

He said: "This is a facility for everybody; it isn't just for the elite. It echoes the sporting ideals of foundation, participation and performance, and is excellent for families who can come in here to use the facilities as much as the elite athlete.

"I think that is the uniqueness of the facility the flexibility that we have here and long may it continue."

The European Swimming Championships will be held here in December and Mr Bohan said: "I think that, in terms of business, what sporting events or activities bring to Dublin is immense.

"I don't think anybody has really calculated this in terms of a facility such as this, the job opportunities that are here. We're employing somewhere in the region of 120 individuals on a full-time basis.

"The economic benefit that it brings and, most importantly, the health benefit that it brings to everybody cannot be measured.

"It is our intention to become the biggest attraction in Ireland in the first year of operation and right now we're well on target to achieve that."

Many of the objections to the building of the facility in Abbotstown, and to the further development of the site through the provision of the entire Campus Ireland complex, centred on the lack of infrastructure and the remoteness of the site from Dublin city centre.

Said Mr Bohan: "Obviously we'd love to have improved infrastructure, of course we would, any business would. But our numbers have surpassed all our expectations at this point.

"While I appreciate that we would love to have hotels, we would love to have the Luas coming up here, we'd love all of that and we would love to see the Campus going ahead, we have survived and in actual fact surpassed all our own expectations."

He conceded that the great majority of visitors had come from Dublin but added: "We are getting a lot of school tours from the Cavan area and beyond Meath and so forth.

"We intend to become the biggest attraction in the country in terms of the number of visitors in any one year which is the only meaningful criterion for a sports facility and at this stage we're heading for it.

"To achieve that we're reaching away beyond the Pale, and people are coming up here from all over the country and saying 'what a fabulous facility' and how they are very, very proud of it."

Swim Ireland, who cater for the elite competitive swimmers, have exclusive use of the competition pool which measures 25m by 50m and is comprised of ten lanes for racing for two hours every morning and two hours every evening.

Members of the public have access to the leisure complex at all times at a cost of €36 euro per family of two adults and two children while school groups are charged at eight euro per head.

School groups have a limit of two hours put on their stay while the general public and families can stay all day if they wish.

The main competitive pool is totally flexible but there has been some criticism of the fact that it is shortened from 50m to 25m in the course of the day.

Mr. Bohan claimed that this was in line with some of the other major swim facilities in Europe where elite swimmers trained long-course in the morning and short-course in the evening.

He added: "The main thing about this pool is that it does have to pay for itself. It is not for one small core of sporting continuum, not just for the elite, it is for everybody, including families.

"Given that we are giving in the region of 23,000 worth of hours to Swim Ireland for free shows that we are supporting all elements of the continuum.

"We also give five event days per year free to Swim Ireland and the Special Olympics is for freegratis, but isn't it wonderful that we are in a position to offer a venue to host it"

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