Heery hopeful gear row will soon be consigned to history

THE infamous gear row which raged throughout two Olympic Games and kept Irish athletes out of the last European Youth Olympics could be resolved over the coming months.

On Monday night, representatives of the Athletic Association of Ireland (AAI) met with members of the executive of the Olympic Council of Ireland at the OCI headquarters. Following that meeting, the president of the AAI, Michael Heery, admitted he was hopeful a resolution will be found over the next number of months.

The AAI were represented at Monday night's meeting by Heery, the international secretary Liam Hennessy and the competition secretary Paddy Marley.

The president of the OCI, Pat Hickey, was joined by the hon general secretary Dermot Sherlock, Peadar Casey and Bobby Begley, who is a former president of BLE, the body that controlled Irish athletics when the row first flared up in the lead up to the Atlanta Olympics in 1976.

That was when the OCI signed a sponsorship deal with Reebok and were insisting Irish track and field athletes wear that gear while the then BLE, who were contracted to Asics, insisted their athletes should wear that strip.

They subsequently took the row to Atlanta where it blew up again and attracted worldwide attention when Sonia O'Sullivan, who also had a personal contract with Reebok, was asked to change her gear en route from the call room to the track.

It raged on throughout the Sydney Olympics where the OCI, now contracted to Adidas, in accordance with the Olympic Charter insisted everyone wear Adidas.

With the Athens Games now less than two years away it threatened to explode again, but this week's meeting may be a major step towards resolving the issue.

"It's not going to be easy," Heery admitted. "But I am definitely looking to resolve it.

"When our athletes are selected in future to represent Ireland at the Olympic Games or the Youth Olympics I want to make sure they will not have to worry about what gear they are going to wear. We will have that resolved beforehand."

He said they had given themselves until the end of this year or very early next year to resolve the issue.

"Next summer will be the first competition and we have to have something in place by then," he said. "There was good will on all sides when we met this week.

"As I said addressing the meeting, I came in without any baggage and anything that has happened in the past, as far as I am concerned, is history."

He said they were not going to go back over that ground again. They are going forward, looking to the future.

"Pat Hickey came across exactly the same," he said. "Hopefully we can move forward from here and we can learn from the past.

"We have to say the split is part of our history but maybe, sometime in the future, athletes won't know there was never any split.

"It is 80 years since the NACAI was formed under the umbrella of the GAA. Even the chain of office I have reflects that. We have the presidents from the first president in 1922," he said.

"I know in the meantime, we have had different organisations and maybe they were rival organisations but now we are all together.

"The IAAF celebrated 90 years at the world junior championships in Jamaica this year so maybe we should have some little celebration, maybe on the eve of the national inter counties cross-country championships at the end of November. It is all part of our history.

"There were mistakes in the past and we should learn from those going forward. The one thing we must never forget is the athletes have to be the priority. That is something I have always believed."

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