Athletics Ireland should be ashamed

English was due to compete next weekend in the 2020 National Senior Track and Field Championships, but self-isolation requirements laid down by the governing body will prelude his participation.

The Finn Valley AC athlete competed in Lignano on Monday, running a Finn Valley club record of 1:48.42. Even though Italy is a ‘green list’ country, English will be absent from the 800m start list.

“Athletics Ireland should be ashamed of themselves,” McGonagle told Donegal Daily/Donegal Sport Hub.

“Italy is a green list county and no Irish citizen is required to isolate after returning from there.

“It begs the question, why penalise Mark English? He is a qualified medical doctor who is practicing in the medical field on the front line and, yet, Athletics Ireland have deemed that he cannot come into Morton Stadium to run 800m.”

Hamish Adams, the chief executive of Athletics Ireland, defended the decision.

Speaking to the Irish Times, Adams said:  “That information was on our website, going back to May, that anyone travelling off the island of Ireland had to complete the 14-day isolation, which has been the advice from the HSE, etc.

“So that’s been our stance all along, and has been communicated with the athletes, there were aware of it, and that it also included the green list countries…

“We don’t like to exclude any athletes, obviously, but these are the trying times that we have to operate in, and that was best practice advice.”

However, McGonagle - who managed Ireland 68 times, including at four Olympic Games - believes the measures are over the top.

He said: “These guidelines were written in May, when the country was in the grip of a lockdown. The country has been moving somewhat towards normality as the restrictions have eased - yet this isn’t the case with Athletics Ireland.

“Athletics Ireland has been keen to link with government guidelines throughout the pandemic,  but what has happened here?

“Athletes like Mark have followed the government guidelines throughout the pandemic. These athletes have adhered to the measures and behaved excellently.

“Athletics Ireland have devised and imposed a rule which is penalising elite athletes.”

English is a three-time European medalist who would have been bidding for a 15th Irish title and an eighth outdoor 800m success.

While Adams said that comparisons to other sports - such as Dundalk being able to compete in the Champions League in Hungary on Wednesday night and return to League of Ireland action at the weekend - was not ‘fair’, McGonagle took exception to his comments.

Adams told Irish Times athletics correspondent Ian O’Riordan: “I don’t think you can compare the professional teams to our amateur teams.”

McGonagle said: “Frankly, to even suggest that an athlete such as Mark English is ‘amateur’ is insulting.

“This has been a seriously difficult year for athletes like Mark who are trying to hold a focus for the Olympic Games and now they have to bang off for another year.

“Mark English has consistently competed in the National Championships and has represented Ireland with distinction across the globe.

“Athletics Ireland have made a grave error here - and have done so in a season where there have been no national underage athletics championships and in most instances, except for Ulster, at provincial level either.

“Everyone is aware of the seriousness of the pandemic and have totally endeavoured to support to every aspect of the guidelines.”

The likes of Nadia Power, Ciara Mageean and Thomas Barr are others who will not feature in Santry.

McGonagle added: “Other sports and federations - boxing, for one example - would love to have an outlet for a national championships to showcase their top athletes.

"Instead, Athletics Ireland is precluding some of Ireland’s top sportspeople from competing, when - and this has to be emphasised - it is deemed perfectly within government guidelines to do so.”


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