Olympic hopefuls travel out of Larne to training as swimming pool ‘disappointingly’ remains shut

Mid and East Antrim  council has been urged to have a rethink over a delay in the reopening of its swimming pools.

Thursday, 13th August 2020, 9:00 am
Larne Leisure Centre.

Leisure centres in the borough have been shut since March in response to the Covid pandemic (read here).

Last month, the NI Executive permitted the reopening of leisure centres but the doors at facilities in Mid and East Antrim have remained shut.

Meanwhile, swimming in neighbouring towns such as Ballyclare resumed at Sixmile Leisure Centre, Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey and Antrim Forum last week. Gym facilities are also operational.

In a statement on social media, Larne Swimming Club described a decision taken behind closed doors at a meeting of the borough council last week to defer the reopening of the leisure centre as “disappointing”.

“This is a huge season for us as a club and for the world of sport with the Olympics less than a year away.

“it is essential that if we want to continue to push the sport in Ireland forwards in Larne, we need to get back to training.”

Currently, some members are travelling to swim in a pool in Bangor to continue their training but head coach Peter Hill says that this is “not sustainable”.

Larne Swimming Club’s Olympics hopefuls include Danielle Hill, European semi-finalist and Commonwealth finalist and Conor Ferguson, also an Irish record-holder, Commonwealth finalist and medallist at world junior level.

Peter said: “As things stand, we are not able to train and as we look to enter Olympic year for these two athletes (as well as national and junior international qualification period for others). We are obviously very keen that Mid and East Antrim Borough Council follows the example of Lisburn, Bangor and Mid Ulster and reopen the pool in Larne.

“Not withstanding the obvious great exposure at having to potential Olympians returning to training in the centre, the impact of having access to water-based exercise for many who can’t exercise in other ways would be invaluable.”

Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Danny Donnelly says that he has petitioned Mid and East Antrim’s chief executive to re-open Larne swimming pool to local athletes in Larne Swimming Club so they can restart their training for competitions, including Olympic qualifiers as soon as possible.

Cllr Donnelly added: “We believe the leisure centre and pools are highly-valued services that are vital to the physical and mental health and general well-being of people in the area.

“We believe we have a duty to open them as soon as it is safe to do so and we will be pushing for the reopening of the these services at every opportunity.

“They will clearly not be able to open at full capacity but even with reduced numbers, they will be allowing people to get out and exercise safely.”

A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said: “Our Council has led the way in the reopening of many of our facilities and sites, and we continue to prioritise the safety of the public and our staff as we work through the phased reopening of remaining Council services, such as leisure centres.

“We continue to strictly adhere to the Executive and Public Health Agency guidelines regarding coronavirus and the risks posed to our community.

“A special meeting of Council has been arranged to discuss the options around our leisure facilities and we will provide a further update afterwards.

“In the meantime, we are encouraging residents to enjoy the wide range of award-winning outdoor spaces within our borough as well as the alternative calendar of events being rolled out across Mid and East Antrim.”

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter.

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