Olympic Torch set to visit Ireland for first time

IT IS almost certain the Olympic Torch will visit Ireland next year for the first time in the history of the Games.

The President of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), Pat Hickey, told last night’s AGM of the OCI that, while it still has to be signed off by the International Olympic Committee, the Torch Relay will move from Belfast to Dublin, across the border, and there will be a relay around Dublin where the Irish public will have an opportunity to celebrate the Games.

“After the Beijing Games the IOC introduced the rule that the Torch Relay would only take place within the territory of the NOC (national Olympic committee) of the country of the Games, due to the demonstrations that took place in Paris and London in the lead up to the Beijing Games,” he said.

“This, of course, presented a difficulty for Ireland because the Olympic Council of Ireland is the NOC for the island of Ireland. I am happy to inform you that after long negotiations it looks like the Torch Relay will move from Belfast to Dublin, across the border, with a relay around the Dublin area.

“This will be welcomed as the Torch is the symbol of peace and the crossing of the border will be a great day of celebration for everyone and will celebrate the great peace we now have in Northern Ireland.

“The relay has yet to be signed off by the International Olympic Committee but, at this stage, I expect this to be only a formality.

“I was very honoured during the recent visit of the Queen of England that at the reception hosted by the British Embassy I was asked to present a group of Olympic and Paralympic athletes who hope to be competing in London to her.”

But he expressed disappointment at the fact that Ireland failed to attract teams to the country for their pre-Olympic training camps.

“I sit on the Government Task Force to get the maximum from the London Games for Ireland and there was an expectation that it would be possible to attract many teams here for pre-Olympic training, however with the exception of a very small few, this has not worked out,” he said.

“This is mainly due to the fact that our sports facilities are not up to the same standard as the UK and in addition the UK are offering a very attractive financial deal to locate in the UK for pre-Olympic training.”

Chef de Mission, Sonia O’Sullivan said that, with less than a year to go to the Olympic Games, the teams were at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

“Especially the athletes who will be chasing qualification over the coming months,” she said. “It does not matter how well the athletes qualify it’s just to achieve qualification as soon as possible so that a plan can be made for each athlete to get to the Games ready to deliver the performance of his or her life.

“So far we have been working as a group with each federation striving to provide a very positive environment to work in during the lead up to the Games, at the Olympic Games and after the Games.

“The athletes should be allowed to focus on the enormous challenge of competing at the highest level at London next year.

“We have identified a training camp in South-West London that we would like to use next year — located at St Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill. It’s a fantastic sports facility with accommodation down the road.

“We believe the environment will allow final preparations to take place away from the hustle and bustle of the Olympic Village.”

She said the Olympic qualification standards had been agreed and signed, particularly the “A” standards for athletics and swimming. They have had meetings with Asics as regards the uniform to be worn around the Olympic Village and in the parade and next week they will have another opportunity to meet the athletes at the Chef de Mission seminar which coincides with a number of test events for athletes.

“A number of athletes are taking part in test events including triathlon, cycling, sailing, badminton and it will give a lot of the athletes an idea of what to expect next year.”

“We plan to have another conference in December which will be attended by the performance directors, the OCI, Institute of Sport and the athletes will also attend this time around.”

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