1993: When we hosted Europe’s biggest vision impaired event

It has a legacy, a very big legacy.

Twenty years ago this year we hosted our biggest ever event. Some in Europe to this day still regard It as the greatest ever.

Five years after the founding of Irish Blind Sports, now Vision Sports Ireland, not only had we thrown away the rattle, dispensed with nappies but we even beat the big boys to host Europe’s then biggest athletics event for vision impaired.

There is no doubt Vision Sports Ireland was a confident, competent and vibrant organization. It was ambitious too.

In June 1991 Vision Sports Ireland applied to the International Blind Sports Association (IBSA) for, and was awarded the 1993 European Athletics Championships for the Blind. We beat off 3 other rivals.

We were undertaking the hosting of IBSA Europe’s then flagship event. An event which countries like Great Britain, Russia and Portugal freely admitted was too big for their then organisations.

Some said it couldn’t be done. It was!

On 6th September 1993 An Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, TD officially opened the Championships at Belfield, Dublin.

300 athletes from 21 nations marched in the Opening Ceremony on a very wet afternoon. The week’s event was a runaway success and, as organisers, we received many plaudits, both during and afterwards.

The organising committee and sub-committees were top drawer: Liam Nolan (Chair), Ann Lyster (Director); Joe Geraghty (Secretary); Tony Lyster (PRO), Larry Currid (Treasurer); John Nolan, Gerry Campbell, Bernie Walsh; Joe Walsh, Jack Bracken, John Kelly, Bernie Walsh Jnr (Legal) Tony Guest (Irish Team Manager), Mick McKeon (Chief Technical Director), Anne Kelly, Pat Kelly, Jimmy Kelly, Fintan O’Donnell, Philip Dunne, Henry Randle, Margaret Hughes, Breda Currid, and the list goes on.

The work involved was demanding – history would show it may have been too demanding for some – and may have impacted VSI years later.

The fundraising went very well with lots of private corporate sponsors on board as well as the Government, EU and NCBI.

The area which created most issues surprised us. Belfield had never hosted a track and field event of this magnitude in the past and was unprepared.

The track was fine but field needed last-minute urgent upgrade to meet IAAF international standard. 21 flagpoles, forget it! Flags and anthems, forget it! Media centre, forget it! Sheltered areas to protect athletes, organisers, forget it! One stop shop for arranging on-site accommodation, food and banqueting, forget it!

Belfield then was an organisational maze. How amazing!

But, all’s well that ends well. President Mary Robinson saw a World Record. She was truly overwhelmed with what she saw, and told us so, in public and in person.

Footnote: Our web editor Joe, then Secretary, of those European Championships recalls … “to this day I believe this is my lifetime achievement as an administrator. I am so proud to be associated with what may be our biggest organizational achievement ever to date. Now, in 2013 we have had a fantastic year and will probably surpass 1993 in a year or so maybe with Mayfest or maybe with another single sport event. However, nothing will surpass for me personally Thursday 9th September 1993… as I went to the back of the 5000 crowd at end of the presidential visit I witnessed Mary Robinson head for the state car 30 minutes behind schedule. Next, she made a u-turn. Led by Liam Nolan she headed straight through the crowd towards where I was holding my two babies Claire and Christopher, accompanied by my wife Grainne. Liam said President you must meet Joe Geraghty. Gosh, I was so embarrassed but I was amazed by how her warmth and interest. She personally thanked me for my brief which I provided to her office. Liam Nolan later told me that made his day to spot me. It made my day too.”

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