Ireland’s new National Performance Director Jon Rudd says the nation will focus on keeping talented domestic athletes training in Ireland while finding athletes abroad with Irish eligibility as the nation builds towards the next Olympics.
“Although we have 6 million people living in Ireland, there are 80-100 million outside of Ireland that have eligibility to race for us,” Rudd told SwimSwam this week, adding that many athletes outside of Ireland may not even know they could have Irish eligibility.
That comes after Ireland’s best aquatic finishers at the Rio Olympics came from outside of the nation. American-born swimmer Shane Ryan elected to use his Irish citizenship to compete for Ireland in 2016 after trying out for the U.S. Olympic team in 2012. Ryan, whose mother and father are both of Irish descent, made semifinals of the 100 backstroke in Rio. Meanwhile diver Oliver Dingley made the 3-meter springboard final after switching his citizenship from Great Britain to Ireland. Dingley became the first Irish diver to qualify for the Olympics in 68 years and became the first Irish diver ever to make an Olympic final.
That’s not to say Rudd wants to focus entirely outside of Ireland’s borders.
“I’m conscious of the fact that my priority is right here in Ireland,” he said, “but that should not mean that we’re closed to possibilities: there are lots of folk out there who may not know they are eligible for Ireland. And if they have Irish heritage and respond to the call and culture, we should welcome them.
“A medal for Ireland will be great; a medal for Ireland that comes out of Ireland will feel even better.”
Rudd said his vision of Irish Swimming is to have infrastructure that entices great domestic athletes to continue training in Ireland, while also bringing in high-level athletes from outside the country with eligibility.
“I want a system where swimmers can choose to leave but don’t feel like they have to,” Rudd said. “If they want a lifestyle and cultural change by going to the US or wherever, then go for it. That’s fine – but I don’t think that’s for national medalists looking to make senior international teams in the future. We want to create a situation at the National performance centres in Dublin and Limerick where athletes get to 18 years of age and there’s a strong viable option for them to stay on shore and not to feel like by staying home they are compromising whatever potential they have.”