Irish Olympic team to leave without all their athletes after extreme rule change

The inclusion of the extraordinary new rule requiring any athlete who can prove that he or she was injured while in China to fly home on an international cargo plane has created a dilemma for the Irish Olympic team.

Heading for Beijing without being able to take all of them to the Olympic Village means the Irish Olympic Committee will have to inform the Chinese that no Irish athlete will be able to stay on to participate in the Games.

The Irish team was due to fly to Beijing on Sunday night, the date it is determined in the rules that the last-minute health tests are necessary. It will be the first time the Irish will head to an Olympic Games without all their athletes.

The nine Irish athletes due to fly out are not all expected to need medical examinations, meaning they will all be allowed to leave on the cargo plane.

Brendan Martin, a lawyer acting for the IOC, said the Chinese medical exams, carried out at Beijing Airport, would determine the outcome.

Bryan Russell and Darren Bent of Fermanagh and Hannah Worrall from Castleblayney, County Monaghan, are among the Irish athletes due to go on the flight.

“We are in consultation with Irish Olympic Committee as well as the Irish Athletes’ Association, and if the delegation, as presently constituted, is to depart for Beijing, then Irish athletes who have been diagnosed with any form of injury may not be permitted to participate in the Games,” Martin said.

“The rules to be complied with by Irish athletes at the entrance to Beijing (and throughout the Games) are of a scale and scope that has never been seen before and their implementation has not previously been prescribed by this committee.

“Lack of clarification and more information of this nature on this issue has resulted in the IOC allowing consideration of exceptions in some sports.”

The call on yesterday by Shane Boylan, the chairman of the Irish Athletics Association, on behalf of the Irish Olympic Committee, has been welcomed by the chief executive of the Irish Paralympic Association, Peter Marshall.

Marshall has been among those critical of the inclusion of the extraordinary provision that those athletes who have had any form of injury while in China must immediately fly home on an international cargo plane.

Having an athlete travel to Beijing, and then return to his or her home after a few days, would not qualify the athlete to participate in the Paralympics, Marshall said.

“It’s got to be a question of quality,” Marshall said. “It’s not the sort of [medical] examination you will get [at the Games]. This is extremely time-consuming. There’s a lot of medical equipment needed for this. There are psychological tests, it can take a week for this.

“There are a lot of questions. What will be going through the athletes’ minds? What will be the reaction [from the Chinese]? How will they react if it’s something that went wrong?”

Marshall said it was essential that the Irish Olympic Committee and the IPC speak to each other before the deadline for the Irish athletes’ flights.

Ireland’s first gold medal of the Rio Olympic Games last year was secured by wheelchair athlete Patrick Bradley, who fell and suffered a broken wrist during the open-water events at the water polo venue in the city of Barra on Rio’s sandy beaches. He had already qualified for the long course at Beijing, but will now be excluded from the Paralympics.

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