Olympic medal hope Sanita Puspure has warned that unless the Government gives athletes special dispensation to return to training facilities then hopes of Tokyo glory will be lost and some Irish competitors could retire.
With the Summer Games put back to 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ireland’s single scull rowing world champion of the last two years on Friday backed the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s call for its Olympic and Paralympic athletes to be allowed to travel beyond the current five-kilometre restriction currently imposed by government in order to access training facilities and high-performance programmes.
Puspure, 38, warned that if Team Ireland hopefuls, who number in the region of 200 athletes, were not given leeway in this regard, it is not only medal hopes that will disappear.
"Do you know what? It could be the difference between retiring and not retiring as well,” the Cork-based Puspure said.
"I'm not going to say that it never crossed my mind, 'can I handle another year?' and then sitting at home and challenging yourself every day with training on the rooftop, looking at your reflection in the door.
"Like, it's not easy. I know there are higher priorities at the moment in the country. But it takes time to gel the crew, to row them in sync, and get that boat running. It takes weeks, months even, and then you have to try to do the same, not just at normal speed but at higher speed.
"It takes skill and practice, practice, practice, and you can't get that on a rowing machine. It's not the same and you can end up getting bad habits from it, you've got the chain and you've got the split result, and it's not the same as you would get in the boat, it's a different type of skill, it's finesse that you just can't do on the land.
"The essence of our sport is being on the water, and for us, that's very important because it's not just the physiology that's involved in training, it's also the technical finesse and the skill that you need to acquire to go faster.
"This is the longest break I've been off the water since I had my (two) children, so I'm very fortunate because I live quite near to the training centre and for the past couple of weeks I've been able to get on the water a couple of times a week and it's not as it was in March, I'm not as good, I'm not as fast because I haven't been on the water.
"Every week you postpone getting back to your training you're giving your opponent an advantage, and it's not easy to watch them, all the pictures on Instagram and Twitter, of them back on the water because they have all been isolating together as crews, as a team, and they, therefore, can return to the water in crew boats.”
OFI chief executive Peter Sherrard admitted his organisation was taking “quite a blunt approach” in asking public for athlete waivers to the current lockdown restrictions but added: “It is a little bit of a last resort at this stage. The preference really, and what has happened in other countries is that there have been conversations between the national sports governing bodies and the relevant government ministries to bring this to people’s attention and then it's simple, waiver letters are issued or whatever and it’s done in a relatively low-key manner, you don’t necessarily hear about it in the media.
“To be fair to the relevant sports authorities here, Sport Ireland, the Department, even the ministers for sport have been very active in trying to support this and have been pushing the message.
“It hasn't been met with a green light. We have held off and let that process take its course. There hasn't been a definitive ‘no’ but I just do wonder at the moment if there is enough nuance within the system to say ‘okay, we have to have clear and communicable messages for the general public’ but at the same time you do need to introduce a little bit of nuance so you can say practicably, ‘well, there’s an Olympic cyclist in this locality who can't go any more than five kilometres and clearly needs it’. So for the sake of a simple letter can we not just get that sorted.
“So look, I would be hopeful that this will be resolved but it is a little bit of a blunt approach for something that’s relatively minor. But I think if we don’t it then there is a risk that people will just forget about Olympic athletes. To be fair, they’re putting so much effort and time on the line and they’re not professionally paid to do this and they may only get one shot. As a country, I think we owe that to them so it’s very, very important.”