The future of Irish athletics in sight
2019-01-01 12:47:32 -


By Ken McCue


As a cultural planner with Sport Against Racism Ireland (Sari), it was a great privilege for me to attend the 2018 edition of the Diversity Games last month in Athlone.

The brainchild of Offaly Sports Partnership co-ordinator Eamonn Henry, this two-day event brought together young athletes from schools in Laois and Offaly to join more than 500 competitors in displaying their athletics talents on the indoor track at AIT.

With the support of the Department of Justice and Equality’s Community Integration Fund, Athlone Institute of Technology and Athletics Ireland, the games were set up to encourage young school-age athletes of all backgrounds.

Two primary schools from Portlaoise were also supported in their travel arrangements to the games by the Laois Sports Partnership and the Laois Partnership Company.

On the track there were a number of very impressive performances from both established club runners as well as some who have never competed in inter-club athletics.

In the post-primary games, Eoin Keenan (Portlaoise CBS) won the senior boys’ long jump with a massive leap of 6.31m. Aaron Mangan (St Mary’s Edenderry) controlled the senior boys’ 600m ahead of James Dunne (Tullamore College).

Other local winners in the senior boys’ category were Emmanuel Ilori (Colaiste Iosagain Portarlington) in the 60m with a time of 7.44 seconds, Kevin Ogeagbe (Portlaoise CBS) in the 200m in 23.36, and Emmanuel Haastrup (Colaiste Iosagain) in the 400m.

The intermediate boys’ category would see the most competitive and fastest 60m sprint final of the day, won by Richard Aderogba of Mountmellick Community School in 7.42 seconds. Lee Pearson (St Mary’s) was second in 7.51 with Unity Oviawe (Athlone Community College) third in 7.54.

Oviawe won the 200m in 24.24 and Pearson took the long jump with 5.35m. Michael Dowling (St Mary’s) won the 400m in 56.42 and Ronan Hyland (Mountmellick) took the 600m in 1:31.25

Luke Bourke (Colaiste Choilm Tullamore) had the strongest performance in the junior boys’ category with victory in the 200m in a time of 24.94. Other junior boys winners were Paidi Farrell (St Mary’s) in the 60m, Agbo Babatunde (Tulamore College) in the 60m B final and Luke O’Connor (St Mary’s) in the 400m. Adam Joyce (Tullamore College) won the 600m while Cian Rafter (Mountmellick) took the long jump with 4.75m.

In the minor boys’ category, Michael Moran (Tullamore College) won the long jump, but on the track Colaiste Iosagain were dominant. Jack Fenlon and Jeffery Vambe won the 600m and 400m respectively, while John Ikpotokin claimed a sprint double in the 60m (8.01) and 200m (26.05).

Though winning his races comfortably, Ikpotokin was not happy with his times. He did however show a moment of brilliance in the 4 x 200m relay. Anchoring the Portarlington team, he took the baton 20-25m adrift of the leader before making chase for 150m and romping home to victory on the home straight.

John’s older sister Helen Ikpotokin was arguably the outstanding female athlete at the games with comfortable wins in both the intermediate girls 60m and 400m. The clock unfortunately failed to register a time for her in the 60m. Team mate Heather Murphy won the intermediate 200m in 28.19 while Ella-Cyndy Banjoko-Johnson won the 60m B final in 8.36.

The girls’ intermediate 600m was the most hotly contested endurance battle on the day, with the lead changing hands between Lydia Buckley (St Mary’s) and Eala McDermott (Mercy College Sligo). McDermott, who holds national medals in the steeplechase, eventually won in 1:44.44 but Buckley fought her all the way to the finish line

Minor, junior and senior girls’ events were largely dominated by strong teams from Sligo. Local victories in these categories included Nera Grugerev (Tullamore College) in the junior 60m B and the long jump, Ruby Stueven (St Mary’s) with a gutsy 1:47.10 in the junior 600m, Sadie Cullinan (St Mary’s) in the minor 600m in 1:52.08 and Elodie Le Bourhis (Tullamore College) in the minor long jump.

The primary school event was designed to be less competitive with a number of graded races based on children’s ability. Team trophies were awarded to third and fourth class girls of Our Lady of Mercy Primary School Sligo, fifth and sixth class girls of Sandy Lane National School Portarlington, and boys in third/forth and fifth/sixth class at Scoil Mhuire Bainrion Edenderry.

Opening the games for post-primary schools on day two, Minister of State for Equality David Stanton spoke about the transcendent nature of sport and its ability to act as a vehicle for integration.

The minister responsible for the implementation of the National Integration Strategy said: “Participation in sports, or joining a sports club, teaches us invaluable lessons, such as teamwork, camaraderie and a sense of belonging. Communication barriers are overcome because the sport itself becomes the common language. Differences in religion, background or skin colour all become irrelevant.”

However, it is important to note that many young people from our diverse ethnic communities are not members of athletic clubs and have to rely on the support of their schools for coaching and participation at events.

In addressing this gap, Sari has applied constant pressure on the Government to form an inter-departmental committee comprising sport, education and integration to maximise the involvement of young Travellers and members of other ethnic communities in sport. Sari hopes that the implementation of the new National Sport Policy will contribute in some way to this development, for instance in making the Sport Capital Grant conditional on the insertion of equality, integration and inclusion clauses in the constitutions of national governing bodies.

With AIT vice president Dr Niall Seery speaking about the college’s commitment to integration in welcoming the participants to the games and the active participation of the students as volunteers, it is clear that the Diversity Games have found a true home. Hopefully the next edition will include schools from other counties that will be facilitated by AIT with more than 6,000 students from 62 nations around the world making up a melting pot of cultures.

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