No joy for other Irish MTB riders
By Shane Stokes
Promising Irish downhill rider Jamie Popham is facing a curtailed international programme this year after his funding appeal to the Irish Sports Council was only partially successful this week. Popham had applied for an International class grant of €11,500 earlier this year but was overlooked when the carding grants were awarded in March. He, like Robin Seymour, Tarja Owens and Michelle McCartney, appealed the omission. In all 38 athletes from different sports had protested, but on Tuesday it was announced that only nine of these had successfully effected a change in the ISC's decision. However, while Popham was one of these few, his new ‘Special Case' grant of €4,600 is far short of what he felt he was entitled to. He says that as a result, his programme this year is going to be severely curtailed.
"I am disappointed with the result of the appeal as I had applied for an international grant of €11,500, which has been refused," he said. "While the grant of €4600 will help, the cost of my race season including the eight races of the World Cup Series in 2005 is approximately €20,000. This figure excludes all equipment. Some of the races are in Canada, Brazil and the USA and so, without some private sponsorship, my full race programme for 2005 is now in doubt."
Popham has sympathy for those left in a worse position this week. "I feel very sorry for the other 28 athletes who got nothing," he added. Amongst this number are Seymour, Owens and McCartney, three riders who are now forced to consider their future participation in international competition. While they may elect to continue at a reduced level, they will certainly run up considerable expenses doing so. Seymour and Owens will certainly feel aggrieved; they are multiple national champions who have been at the top of Irish XC competition for many, many years, representing Ireland in World Cups, World championships and Olympic Games.
Seymour competed in Athens 2004, while Owen's points gathering the year previous to that was essential in ensuring that the country gained a place in the women's XC competition at the Games. Yet while the eventual Olympic participant Jenny McCauley has been granted €11,500 this year, Owens will get nothing. So too downhill rider McCartney.
Popham is in a better position than this but does nevertheless seem to have a legitimate reason to feel unhappy. Another downhiller in the same age group, Ben Reid, was awarded €11,500 in March. Popham is generally regarded as a similarly exciting prospect, the two having been very close in standard for much of their young careers but, because of some bad luck last year, he will get nearly 7,000 less.
The origin of Popham's problem stems from an injury suffered midway through last season. He started 2004 as highest ranked junior in the world, finished fifth in the European junior championships (where Reid was seventh), but then had the misfortune to break his ankle. The lingering effects of the injury cost him his chance of a good result at the world downhill championships, Popham finishing 23rd to Reid's fourth place. While Reid fully deserves his grant, the fact that Ireland's other big downhill prospect stands to get so much less this season illustrates the clear flaws within the assessment criteria.
Popham has now succeeded in getting some carding funding for the season, but with estimated costs far and above what he has been awarded, it is clear that his world ranking and development is, unfortunately, going to suffer in the sort term. As for Seymour, Owens and McCartney, they will feel even more aggrieved by what was announced by the Irish Sports Council on Tuesday. The ISC has decided to be tougher in allocating funding after what they feel is a less than satisfactory performance by Irish athletes in the Olympics last year; however, suddenly cutting funding from so many Irish sportspeople has not been well received at all.