The UCD Athletics Track was officially closed as of Monday 21st November. UCD Athletics Club Captain Richard Owens was informed of the track’s imminent closure shortly before an email was sent by Vice President for Students, Martin Butler, to students and staff informing them of the end of the “operational life” of the facility due to health and safety concerns.
Butler described the poor condition of the track as the reason for its closure; “as the surface is badly worn and becomes slippy when wet, it should be closed to all users.” However, Owen maintains that until “diggers and bulldozers moved in” the following morning, it was still usable. “It wasn’t great, it was the oldest track in Ireland, but it was still in perfectly usable condition … We know there are plans for a new track, which is great, but we were perfectly happy with what we had.”
Owens explained how the closure of the track will affect not only the 256 members of the Club, but five local schools, a running club and members of the public. An alternative location must also now be found for the traditional Belfield staging of national charity event the GOAL mile.
Students affected by the closure have been involved in a campaign to ‘save’ the track since the announcement was made. The campaign has so far included an “emergency meeting” between the Athletics Club, Sports Officer Paddy Guiney, and Students’ Union Campaigns and Communications Officer, Brendan Lacey, as well as a “fun run” around campus. A written petition reached over three thousand signatures last week, and an assembly meeting, held in conjunction with LawSoc, was due to take place on Monday 28th November.
Numerous political and sporting personalities have voiced their support for the campaign, including TDs Olivia Mitchell and Micheál Martin, and athletes such as Sonia O’Sullivan, Paula Radcliffe and David Gillick.
Guiney stated that the late notice students were given regarding the closure is the impetus behind the campaign, and that they were seeking “an apology for the way the Athletics Club were treated” and wished to see details of the track removed from the UCD prospectus and website: “we don’t want it advertised because it is not there.”
Director of Sport Brian Mullins acknowledged that the closure was a “shock and a very big disappointment” for students and explained that short-term alternatives including “not only synthetic surfaces on campus and grass areas but also options like the Irishtown track” were being explored.
Butler expressed the intention of the University “to provide an alternative facility on campus in the future, subject to funding becoming available.” Mullins stated that the “preferred location for a replacement would be in Richview”. Both he and Owens expressed hope that funding for a new track might be obtained from the Sports Capital Programme, which having been suspended for the past three years is due to be reintroduced by the current government in 2012, with an budget of €30 million.
Should funding become available, Owens emphasised that the Athletics Club would strive to raise a portion of the required sum themselves. “The exact figure UCD Sport has quoted us is €1.6 million for a new track, so … we think it’s only fair that the club would have to raise €100,000 to €150,000 and then whatever else, to make up the rest of the track.”