Nostalgia: The unfortunate split in Irish Athletics

“Inevitably one wonders: just how would they fare in international competition and contribute fully to Irish athletics? But because of the unfortunate split in Irish athletics — surely no country can afford this, least of all one of our size — such competition is denied them. And not until this ridiculous situation has ended can we get an answer”.

In a previous post, Nostalgia: A Famed Cork Athletic Club (Examiner 1960), reference is made to the split in Irish Athletics, a situation which denied many athletes an opportunity to compete at international level. While the club’s old guard will no doubt be very familiar with the subject, some background history may be of interest to our younger (and newer) members.

The split in Irish Athletics

The International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) was founded after the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. The National Athletic & Cycling Association of Ireland (NACAI) was set up in 1923 with full membership of the IAAF. Consequently, Ireland sent a separate team to the 1924 Paris Olympics. The same year, a number of Northern Ireland clubs resigned from the NACAI and formed the Northern Ireland Amateur Athletic, Cycling & Cross Country Association (NIAAA).

At its 1933 Congress in Stockholm, the IAAF amended its constitution to define members by political boundaries. The 32 county NACAI decided not to accept the Ruling and was suspended from the IAAF in 1935. Consequently, (some might say fortunately) Ireland did not compete at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

In 1937, a number of clubs around the Dublin area split from the NACAI and set up the Amateur Athletic Union of Eire (AAUE) recognising the IAAF boundary ruling. Thus, the AAUE was granted full membership of the IAAF and the NACAI suspension made permanent. The breakaway AAUE represented Ireland at the 1948 London and 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

However, the vast majority of 26 county clubs stuck with the NACAI. Attempts at a resolution of the dispute, now involving three separate entities, proved unsuccessful. This befuddled state of affairs persisted until 1967 when the NACAI and AAUE dissolved to form Bord Luthchleas na hÉireann (BLE). However, a section of the NACAI refused to dissolve. In 1987, BLE signed an agreement with the rump NACAI. With improved North-South relations, all athletes wishing to represent Ireland at International level could now do so. As of 1999, the BLE and NACAI dissolved completely to form Athletics Ireland (AI) with provision for Northern Ireland representation on the Council. St Finbarr’s A.C. is an affiliated member of Athletics Ireland and paid-up members are registered with AI on an annual basis. Le voilà!