Rowing Ireland chiefs have backed calls for an easing of restrictions on the movement of elite sportspeople.
Earlier this morning the Olympic Federation of Ireland CEO Peter Sherrard expressed concerns that Irish Olympians are losing ground on their international rivals with government protocols hampering their ability to train.
The 5km travel restriction is currently the biggest stumbling block for the majority of sportspeople.
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Sherrard said: "Really it's just a bit of nuance and flexibility to be shown to approximately 200 Olympic and Paralympic athletes throughout the country. We’re not asking for a massive amount but to give you a fairly simple example, our Olympic rowers can’t get to the National Training Centre because it’s more than 5km from their houses and yet rowing clubs throughout the country are open in line with Phase One government protocols.
"There’s no problems with rowing itself, it’s just a waiver to get to the centres. That’s the kind of thing that with a little responsiveness, we could arrange for our athletes. Sport Ireland have been working very hard with the Departments and the officials to request this and unfortunately we haven’t had green lights from Health at this stage.
"It is becoming an issue because across Europe National Training Centres and Olympic Training Centres are reopening for that very small group of athletes who have very detailed health protocols."
The National Rowing Centre is located in Farran, Cork in a a rural area.
A Rowing Ireland spokesperson said this morning: "Our High-Performance Athletes are currently unable to train at the National Rowing Centre due to the 5km travel restriction. Our Clubs and High-Performance athletes are our priority.
"In line with this, we are supporting a special dispensation for our Elite athletes to be able to return to the National Rowing Centre and return to training and resume their preparations for the Olympics in 15 months time. Their plans and dreams have already been derailed due to the outbreak of COVID 19 and the postponement of the Olympic Games.
"Our High-Performance athletes are exceptionally vigilant about their health and well being. They remain on high alert and are adhering to public health guidelines and recommendations.
"The benefits of High-Performance sport to the country are significant and our potential Olympic success. Sport lifts a nation and shows fundamental unity which after this time will be vital in the year ahead."
Chair of the Olympic Federation of Ireland Athletes’ Commission Shane O’Connor also backed the calls for an easing of restrictions.
He explained: “We are looking for support to allow Olympic athletes train and compete on a level playing field. For some athletes not only are they watching their counterparts in other countries returning to national team training, they are watching other Irish athletes return, athletes competing in the same sport and on the same teams, just because they live marginally closer to a venue.
“We are talking about athletes who are aiming to be in peak condition in a matter of months, who may still need to qualify and who will be fighting for medals at the Olympic Games next year. It is hard to fathom that there are cases where recreational athletes have a better access to facilities than athletes targeting Tokyo, simply because of where they live.
“To date countries like Italy, Croatia, The Netherlands, Spain, Denmark and Belgium have all allowed a prioritised return for Olympic athletes, and Great Britain have recently launched their return for elite athletes – our elite athletes, our medal potentials are now at risk of becoming uncompetitive. We need to recognise that the return of elite sport training is essential ahead of any return to competitive sport itself. In Ireland the plan for a return to sport for elite athletes has not yet been addressed.
"With professional and experienced staff, health protocols and monitoring in place at venues, these small group activities are low risk. We know the support is there from the OFI, Sport Ireland and NGBs but as long as there are travel restrictions in place this small cohort of athletes will be negatively impacted on the international stage.”