The New Zealand native will replace John Foley in early May.
In his five years as CEO of Rowing Ireland, Adams oversaw a sport that enjoyed huge success on the international stage and, while he is set to take over a national governing body with booming numbers, it’s one which continues to face challenges that have a repetitive ring to them down through the years. Here are the five key tasks he’ll face.
Athletics Ireland is to receive €887,000 in core grant funding from Sport Ireland in 2018 — the highest of any single-sport governing body — in addition to €790,000 in high-performance funding, but is it enough? If the sport is to widen its net at grassroots level and enhance its expertise in high-performance coaching, Adams will need to recruit new sponsors, an area where Foley proved highly successful in his eight-year tenure.
However, the kit deal for the national team, signed over in the summer to CX+ Sport, a brand renowned for its equestrian gear, hinted that major players such as Nike, Adidas, Asics, and New Balance weren’t exactly beating down the door. It is a sign, perhaps, of the challenges ahead.
If Adams is to lure major sponsors and revenue, then widening the sport’s presence to grab the eyes and ears of the general population will be his first task. Outside of rugby, soccer, GAA, and horse racing, athletics has a decent standing, leading the race for attention among minority sports in Ireland, but that’s a precarious position.
There’s no denying that, outside of major senior championships, few sports fans tune their dial to athletics, while RTÉ’s disinterest in forking out for broadcast rights to the World Championships in London last year only highlighted that attitude. In the internet age there’s never been a better chance for a sport to fight its corner and, by live-streaming events, being creative with its digital presence and savvy in how it utilises mainstream stars, such as Thomas Barr, Irish athletics can muscle its way a little closer to the major players.
Since 2009 Athletics Ireland has more than doubled its membership to over 60,000, but talk to those on the ground and the complaint is the same: it’s well behind the field sports in the tug-of-war for talent. A huge reason for the rise in numbers is the road-running boom, which has drawn the masses towards clubs in recent years, but underage figures are also on the rise. The key is to continue that growth, to cast the net far and wide and ensure that not only do more athletes come to the sport, but the ones that do are kept in it and properly developed, which brings us to…
By my reckoning, there’s still only one full-time athletics coaching position in Ireland and, while that is something the CEO will undoubtedly look to address, the question is how? Under Adams, rowing was highly successful in creating a centralised hub for its top talent, but athletics has a far wider reach and range of athletes to pull off this trick. As such, the most realistic approach could be to appoint a full-time director of coaching, who can oversee and advise the crop of volunteer coaches that hold the sport together. It will need to be someone with substantial sprints and technical expertise.
The age-old problem in Irish athletics, only ever dormant — not extinct — since BLOE and NACA put their vast differences aside and formed the Athletic Association of Ireland in 1999. Since then, it’s had its fair share of turmoil, most famously in 2010 when former Athetlics Ireland CEO Mary Coghlan received a settlement for invalid dismissal of €309,000, more than half of which was paid by Athletics Ireland.Things have been better since, but Adams will soon realise that, as he tries to rejig the various parts in Irish athletics, there will be no shortage of friction.