Olympic hopefuls, footballers, and rugby pros given nod to return to training

Ireland's Olympic hopefuls are back in business.
Olympic hopefuls, footballers, and rugby pros given nod to return to training

Olympic medal hope Sanita Puspure had warned that some Irish competitors could retire if not given leeway. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Olympic medal hope Sanita Puspure had warned that some Irish competitors could retire if not given leeway. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Ireland's Olympic hopefuls are back in business.

Most of them, in any case. The country's elite athletes have been granted dispensations to travel beyond any remaining travel restrictions in order to access designated training centres that will re-open as of this coming Monday.

The country's professional rugby players have also been given the green light to return to their places of work, although that news is of less import given Munster, Leinster, Connacht, and Leinster are currently on a three-week summer break.

More significant is the fact that players and staff with Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Derry City, and Bohemians have been granted the same leeway. All four Airtricity League sides are gearing up for European ties in the near future.

The move is largely in line with the wider governmental policy revealed on Friday which will see the re-opening of society accelerated but the sport-specific aspect will facilitate a significant number of sportspeople who will need to travel beyond county lines or a 20km limit for work purposes.

The travel allowances will apply to athletes on the 2020 Sport Ireland International Carding Scheme, or any belonging to a sport that receives high-performance funding from Sport Ireland, as well as the team sports mentioned above.

All told, it will account for athletes and support staff spreading across 21 sports.

Those attached to rugby and football clubs will now be able to train at their respective employers' training centres. The other facilities to be opened are the National Sports Campus, Morton Stadium in Santry, Irish Sailing's high-performance centre in Dun Laoghaire, the Golf Union of Ireland academy in Carton House, and the National Rowing Centre in Ovens, Co. Cork.

It is a hugely positive step for athletes, all of whom have been training at home for the duration of the lockdown and many of whom have seen competitors in other nations return to training in recent weeks as restrictions were lifted elsewhere.

There are provisos attached.

A rigorous list of health and safety protocols will be in place at every centre in order to combat Covid-19 with sports authorities here drawing on the experiences of those countries who have already welcomed their sports stars back to high-performance surrounds.

That will mean reduced capacity in some instances. The Sport Ireland Institute, as an example, will operate at reduced capacity for now and that will make for delays in terms of some athletes accessing facilities that were more freely available pre-lockdown.

The emphasis on athletes listed on the carding scheme also means that some Olympic hopefuls will have to wait still longer to access these facilities, while underage sportspeople operating at elite levels will also have to remain in the starting blocks for now.

The Minister for State with Special Responsibility for Tourism and Sport, Brendan Griffin, welcomed the easing of restrictions announced on Friday afternoon while acknowledging that some will feel frustration at being asked to wait still longer.

“Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to extend this accommodation to youth athletes and others; for now, it has to be limited to a defined list of athletes and coaches. While these facilities will be reopened for the athletes concerned, their use will be restricted and subject to strict protocols.

“I know that there are a great many people who would jump at the chance to return to sporting activity but I would ask for people’s continued patience. We will continue to work hard with all stakeholders to ensure no undue delay in returning to sport at every level.”

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