Sport Ireland ‘harassing me’, claims Ciarán Ó Lionáird

Ciarán Ó Lionáird has hit out at Sport Ireland’s approach to anti-doping after they attempted to test him at his home in Portland, Oregon, yesterday, despite the Cork athlete being retired from the sport.

Ó Lionáird, a European indoor medallist over 3000m in 2013, has not trained in several months — something he notified Sport Ireland of via email — but woke up yesterday morning to a series of missed calls from a doping control officer looking to conduct a test.

He returned the calls but was informed that because they had been unable to gain access to his apartment block, it would constitute a missed test.

Under Sport Ireland’s anti-doping code, three such violations within a 12-month period would warrant a four-year ban from the sport.

“I’m fed up with it, they’re constantly harassing me about whereabouts, and I’m done,” said Ó Lionáird. “I’ve made them aware I’m no longer training, but I don’t really want my career to end in a ban.”

Last year he suggested in interviews that he was finished with athletics, but because Ó Lionáird has not formally issued a retirement notice to Sport Ireland, they have continued to test him.

“Around Christmas last year I got tested in a bar,” said Ó Lionáird, who believes Sport Ireland are wasting valuable resources on such measures. “How much does it cost? It had to have been over €100,000 testing me over the course of my career.

“What could they have done with that €100,000?

“Whatever it was for this test — several hundred or a thousand euro — if I ended up having three missed tests or getting banned, I don’t care. I’m done. But you could have paid for an athlete’s trip to a warm-weather training camp with that, and that’s my point: There’s not unlimited resources, so why are they putting them into testing a guy who’s done. Does anyone really believe I’m coming back?”

Sport Ireland spent €1.75m through its anti-doping unit last year, with over €930,000 of that on testing. It conducted 1,003 tests across a range of sports, including 250 on Irish athletes, most of which were out of competition.

Last year another recently retired sportsman fell foul of anti-doping rules, with James Brown, a 52-year-old partially sighted Paralympic cyclist, banned for two years and six months after refusing to submit a sample, having informed Cycling Ireland the previous day that he was retiring from the squad.

Under the rules, however, athletes must provide “compelling justification” for not providing a sample.

Ó Lionáird is highly unlikely to face such a sanction, given the doping control officer did not gain access to his home to request a sample.

While he concedes that Sport Ireland was well within its rights to test him, he remains frustrated by their approach.

“There’s the right thing to do and then there’s common sense,” he said.

“How much money are they spending testing people that are done. Why? For what? Can we not start believing in our athletes instead of finding ways to tear them down given we have finite resources?

“I got paid by the Sports Council, I gave my best in training and in races. I trained hard and competed clean. I just don’t know what more I need to give.

“Are they just testing people so they’re spending their budget and is it just a bureaucratic thing? Because if it is, that’s bullshit.

“Resources are finite, so let’s put that money into supporting athletes. I don’t think they’re interested in that, they’re interested in catching athletes and that, to me, is fundamentally wrong.”


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