Colin’s shoes were made for walking; Athletics Ireland should make that happen

13 May 2012; Ireland's Colin Griffin celebrates securing the Olympic Games 'A' Standard time, after finishing in 15th position, with a time of 3.52:55, during the Men's 50km Race Walk event. IAAF World Race Walking Cup, Saransk, Russia. Picture credit: James Veale / SPORTSFILE
This Sporting Life - Colin Regan The treatment of Colin Griffin by the powers that be in Athletics Ireland is nothing short of disgraceful.

This Sporting Life - Colin Regan

The treatment of Colin Griffin by the powers that be in Athletics Ireland is nothing short of disgraceful.

Take the money out of the discussion for a moment and treat it purely on a personal level. Athletes are people first, after all. No individual who has given their life’s work to the ideals and development of any organisation should be treated with such distain and discourtesy, let alone an international athlete who has represented his country twice at the Olympic Games.

On a professional level, from what I can ascertain, the whole mess boils down to bad management, policies, structures and practices in Athletics Ireland. Add into the mix a personality with far too much individual say about what happens in a major Irish institution (nothing new there I hear you say) and the whole affair leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. I can only imagine how disappointing the whole thing has been for Colin.

While it must have been a tough decision, I believe Colin’s decision not to compete internationally was the correct one. I know nothing of the intricacies or demands of international competition, but I know if you want to perform to your best certain conditions must be in place. The first comes down to personal preparation and the knowledge that you have done everything in your power to make sure you are in optimum physical and psychological condition before any competition (or match for that matter). Putting yourself up to compete against the best in the world when you know you are not as prepared as you could be – or as well prepared as your opposition – would have been a recipe for disaster for Colin, an athlete known to thrive on meticulous preparations.

The second element is attached to the knowledge that those who play any part in your performance have done everything they possibly can to ensure optimum performance. In team sports, this mainly refers to your team mates and those in your management set-up. In Colin’s case it will refer to his coaches and, significantly, Athletics Ireland.

Funding is vital for any athlete competing on the international athletics scene. Its withdrawal limits your preparation leaving the playing field uneven. Most Irish athletes are already operating off miniscule amounts of funding compared to their international opponents. However, when the very structure that is supposed to sustain you, represent you, and empower you, turns its back on you the psychological damage inflicted and the breakdown in trust that occurs is much more damaging and has the potential to be the lasting issue.

What Colin outlined in his statement represents a complete communications breakdown. It’s not the first time Athletics Ireland has been accused of atrocious handling of situations that have the potential to change one of their athlete’s lives completely. Take the fiasco with the selection of the Women’s 4x400m relay team ahead of the London Olympics. It was a case study of how not to handle a selection situation and the subsequent legal fall-out. The result was incredibly damaging to Athletics Ireland (not to mention the fact that the resulting legal fees arising from the case cost Athletics Ireland more than any one athlete received in funding) but it was nothing compared to the personal impact it had on the athletes at the centre of the controversy through no fault of their own.

Athletics Ireland moves on from such scandals as any large organisation does, relatively unscathed, with little evidence of accountability or remorse. For the individual, the affect can be devastating.

I don’t expect every athlete to retain their funding year on year without question. That’s not how things work in a competitive environment where resources are tight (and getting tighter in these difficult financial times). Every year the names and number of carded athletes (those who receive exchequer funding awarded through the auspices of the Irish Sports Council) change, with new faces coming onboard and performances, ranking and potential dictating everything.

Colin wasn’t expecting someone to just rubber stamp his cheque and carry on regardless from 2012. What he did expect, and deserve, was the opportunity to put forward his case, explain exactly how he planned to address the technical issues that has affected his undisputable finishing potential, and engage in a comprehensive review and discussion that reflected the dedication and service he already has given to Athletics Ireland at club, county, national and international level.

Just look at Colin’s on-going legacy in Leitrim athletics; it was no coincidence that the majority of our outstanding performances and medals at the All Ireland Indoor championships in the new International Arena at Athlone IT recently were won in the walking discipline.

Colin clearly believes he has much more to give. Hopefully his brave stance will make Athletics Ireland look into how the treat their athletes and will prompt them to alter a system that allows a situation like this to arise in the first place.

His difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that he continues to work as Laura Reynolds’ coach, who, last month, was successful in receiving her first International Class grant. That leaves Colin in the awkward position of having to work in a professional, courteous manner with the director of High Performance in Athletics Ireland, Kevin Ankrom, the individual he has marked out as being the primary cause of his frustration. It is a mark of the Ballinamore man that you can be assured he will do just that.

They say the best way to know a man is to walk a mile in his shoes. Mr Ankrom would be well advised to walk 50k in Colin’s.