After Rio, Colm Barrington will step down as Chair of Sailing's Olympic Steering Group but remains in a fundraising role for the sport. Here, in answers to questions from Afloat.ie, he outlines his hopes for next month's Olympic Regatta, the future funding arrangements for Irish Olympic sailing and explains what an 'elusive' Olympic sailing medal might mean.
AFLOAT (A): In your tenure as Chair of the Olympic Steering Group, there have been some excellent performances in terms of high Performance sailing to the extent that we now tend to expect podium finishes at both youth and senior levels. Going to Rio, have these results helped with generating tangible support for the current Olympic campaigns?
COLM BARRINGTON (CB): Most importantly, the results achieved through the ISA Performance Pathway have resulted in greater competition for Olympic places and so have helped to up everyone’s game. This has been most evident in the Laser and Laser Radial classes where we had competition for places from and between Pathway sailors. As the Pathway sailors mature we hope that this trend will increase so that we have several young Irish sailors competing in the Olympic classes that are targeted.
As regards financial support, in every Olympic cycle interest peaks around the time of the Olympics. Sport Ireland has assessed our progress on a year by year basis and even though results have been really strong at Youth and Senior level it has not had an impact in terms of funding increases. However, this has to be viewed in terms of the overall level of government support for sport which has remained static over the last four years in the difficult economic circumstances. Relatively speaking sailing has done well in comparison with other sports. With the number of squads in our Pathway increasing it means there is no tangible increase in funding at an individual level even though more sailors are now benefitting from the programme.
(A) How do you see the role of the Irish Sailing Foundation in developing a sustainable and repeatable support structure?
(CB): The Irish Sailing Foundation was set up to support, develop and make sustainable a repeatable structure that is already in place with the ISA Performance Pathway. The Pathway is the project that James O’Callaghan and his team of coaches have implemented over the last ten years. The success of this programme is clear to see, in the last four years we have medalled three times at youth worlds. Sixty-six per cent of the RIO Olympic team are graduates from the Academy and another very pleasing statistic is that fifty percent of the team are female. It is now our job to make sure these talented youngsters progress. The goal of the Foundation is to widen the access to this Pathway, to help the progression along the pathway by providing the finance to allow sailors populate the structures regardless of their means and to achieve success at European, World and Olympic level. The motto of the Foundation is “From Pier to Podium”. I hope that the funds raised by the Foundation will give many more young people greater access to the Pathway and to High Performance sailing.
(A) Does the support extend to Paralympics?
(CB): The Foundation will consider disposition of funds to all High Performance sailing, including Paralympics. As you are aware, there is no Paralympic discipline in the 2020 Olympics and so the whole future development of High Performance Paralympic sailing is somewhat unclear right now.
(A) What would be the impact of a Rio medal – both in terms of a medal and in personal terms?
(CB): I believe that the impact on sailing in Ireland of an Olympic medal – or two – would be hugely positive. Ireland loves winners in sport and takes a huge interest in sports where we have winners. Take the public interest generated in women’s boxing after Katie Taylor began winning medals and in women’s rugby after we beat New Zealand. Ireland has not won a sailing medal at the Olympics since 1980 and despite the fact that our sailors have won World Championships, European Championships and World Cup medals in recent years, sailing is still very much below the public horizon. We have the potential to deliver a medal which would help attract a wider audience to what it is we do and why we are so passionate about it. The success Annalise Murphy had in London has already had an effect in the number of young girls with Olympic ambitions. A medal would bring sailing to the attention of a wider group, which would benefit our clubs, our sailing schools, our training programmes, the ISA and the sailing community in general. It would make all of us sailors feel great!
Personally I would be delighted if we could get that elusive medal. I would be particularly delighted for the athletes involved, for their families, for their trainers, for their mates in the training programmes and for all those who have supported them through the many hard years of training and competing, both financially and emotionally. This is my last chance as chair of the OSG as I will step down after twelve years shortly after the games end in Rio. I will remain as chair of the Foundation. If a medal in Rio could also help us achieve the goals of the Foundation then that would be an extra bonus.