The World Cross Country Championships will take place tomorrow in Kampala, Uganda, and there won’t be a single Irish representative at the event. Despite our women’s team finishing fifth four years ago in Poland and winning European team bronze medals twice since, the 2017 edition of the world’s greatest distance race never seemed to register on the Athletics Ireland radar.
While the World Cross Country Championships has long been a precarious dream for the Irish distance runner, the rapid, downward spiral of British interest can be pinpointed to a single monumental selection error in 2010. Despite a similarly vague selection policy to the one seemingly adopted by the Irish and an uncertainty over what exactly needed to be achieved, athletes went into the trial event that year full of hope. The top three in the senior men’s race – Mo Farah and Andy Vernon, along with Mumin Gala, who was not eligible for selection – were well ahead of the field. Mike Skinner followed. Next came a large group of talent, young and old, in an exciting and ever-changing battle for the remaining places in the top six. Phil Hinch, James Walsh, and a 19 year old James Wilkinson eventually out smarted and out ran their rivals, putting themselves in prime position for selection.
It’s not the taking part, it’s the winning that counts
Many ‘experts’ within British and Irish athletics believe that it’s impossible for Europeans to be competitive at this event any longer; that if you’re not going to be at the head of the field then there’s no point in competing, and, most worryingly, that if black people are dominating a world championship, then something needs to be done at a global level to ‘fix’ it.