Plans afoot for life after Covid-19, insists Harbison

Ireland’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls will “not be starting from scratch” when the current crisis eases and life returns to a point where sport can resume, according to Sport Ireland Institute CEO Liam Harbison.
Plans afoot for life after Covid-19, insists Harbison

Ireland’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls will “not be starting from scratch” when the current crisis eases and life returns to a point where sport can resume, according to Sport Ireland Institute CEO Liam Harbison.

The institute has been helping Ireland’s national governing bodies prepare their high-performance athletes via a suite of support services since 2016 and it continues to do so now even as the doors of its HQ at the National Sports Campus remain locked

“Our team of service providers were ready for Tokyo with detailed plans in place for before, during, and after the Games,” said Harbison.

“We are currently resetting those plans with the performance directors and will reconfigure our support plans for all athletes accordingly as we emerge from the current crisis.

“Our message is clear — while the High Performance Centre is currently closed, our team are busy continuing to provide support to the athletes and sports remotely during this difficult time.

“Once we are permitted to do so, we will reopen the centre quickly and focus all our efforts on a successful Games in 2021.”

The institute began updating its clients about the virus and its possible impact on the calendar as early as January, but it remained open under strictly-monitored conditions for as long as possible until the tighter restrictions on movement were introduced last month.

The bulk of its gym equipment has now been dispersed to approximately 50 different athletes’ homes and the services of S&C, nutrition, and other specialists remains available to those seeking to maintain fitness levels through this somewhat surreal period.

Not everything can be accomplished remotely. Physio and medical support are clearly affected, and athletes have been told to be wary of overtraining and risking injuries that would place additional stress on public health bodies which are already pushed to capacity.

“Everyone is still busy,” said Harbison.

The institute has taken on an increasingly central role in Ireland’s high-performance strategy in recent years. That was apparent with the publication of its annual review last night, which showed a 47% jump in the total number of individual visits last year, up to a figure of 13,963.

Almost 1,500 different athletes across 28 sports made use of the Abbotstown facility in 2019. Over 88% of those who did so expressed a high level of satisfaction with the facilities, services, and staff at their disposal at the purpose-built building.

There was a note of caution sounded in all that, however.

That level of satisfaction was down by 5% from 2018, with many athletes suffering from a lack of access due to their own remote location and there is a sense that “the institute is now at a usage level that, if breached considerably, could significantly diminish the quality of our service offering”.

The primary purpose of the institute is to impact performances at major championships. Irish competitors secured 80 medals at recognised world or European competition in 2019, and that is in line with the strategy proposed by the National Sports Policy published two years ago.

In that, it was then stated that Ireland would follow successful programmes in other nations which ranked sports according to their medal prospects.

It was based on criteria such as geographic or infrastructural considerations, where Ireland would have a natural advantage, sufficient talent, and effective governance structures.

In real terms, that boils down to approximately a dozen sports in the Irish context which are deemed to be medal contenders, although there is to be sufficient wiggle room within systems to recognise the presence of outliers from different sources.

“Our resources prioritise those sports that are likely to deliver success at Tokyo 2020,” said Harbison in the report. “The extent of direct service demand to sports and athletes in particular required us to focus on this area.”

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