2013 press releases

Posted 15 February 2013

Taoiseach Officially Opens AIT International Arena


The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, has officially opened Ireland’s first world-class indoor athletics arena at Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT).

In a ceremony attended by legendary Irish athletes, Dr Ronnie Delaney, Senator Eamonn Coghlan, John Treacy, and Ireland’s first female Olympian, Maeve Kyle, the Taoiseach declared the new €10m AIT International Arena open for business.

Describing the arena as “good news for not only for the people of Athlone, but for the wider area,” the Taoiseach said that it is “kind of development that attracts more students, more attention, more investment”.

The International Arena, Mr Kenny said, is “an excellent addition to AIT and is certainly in keeping with your own and the government’s view of the critical link between physical and mental and emotional health. The potential this arena offers is self-evident. Crucially, it supports, directly, the institute’s academic offerings in areas such as sport management, sport science and sport therapy; disciplines where a new generation of sporting professionals are being educated and trained.” 

The Taoiseach continued: “This best-in-class resource will give AIT students the perfect environment in which to apply their skills and knowledge. It’s an excellent investment in what has the potential to be an equally excellent future.”

The official opening comes just ahead of the Athletics Ireland National Senior Indoor Championships at the AIT venue this weekend. Four of Ireland’s best athletes will compete in the International Arena on Saturday and Sunday: Fionnuala Britton, Brian Gregan, Rob Heffernan and Derval O’Rourke.

Speaking at the opening, President of AIT and Athletics Ireland, Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin described the International Arena as a “theatre of dreams”, saying it would become: “the springboard for new Irish sporting heroes and legends, names that will enter the lexicon of greatness.”

Ireland needs sporting heroes, he said, winners and champions who will provide necessary inspiration for the country. That will only come about through “putting in place the infrastructure that will enable young people to fulfill their dreams. It’s about creating an environment and a culture that is deeply committed to the pursuit of excellence.”

Prof Ó Catháin was quick to point out, however, that the AIT International Arena isn’t simply the preserve of elite athletes. Last weekend, 89-year-old Hugh Gallagher competed in the 60m and long jump events in the Master Championships. Equally, the President said that the response of young children and local athletics clubs to the new facility has been hugely positive.

Explaining why AIT was the one to finally deliver on a long-promised indoor athletics facility, it was, he said, because “higher education is not simply about the technical knowledge or know-how to do certain things. It is about a state of mind, about a willingness to move beyond known boundaries and to break through barriers.

“That type of experience is best created in a setting that challenges and nourishes the mind and the body. It is delivered in an environment where learners are exposed to ideas radically different from their own, where multicultural is not just a slogan, but a lived reality. Having the AIT International Arena helps us to deliver on those goals, it strengthens our claim to be a college of choice for students. It adds immeasurably to the attractiveness of Athlone for future learners, whether they be from Trim or Turin, Ballina or Beijing,” he stated.

Prof Ó Catháin added that the new AIT International Arena would generate significant revenue for businesses in Athlone, which is European Town of Sport 2013. It is estimated that the new facility will generate 4,500 bed nights by 2016.

The International Arena is part of a comprehensive programme of investment in AIT which has exceeded €115 million since the start of the millennium. While much of the funding has come from the Exchequer, the vast majority of the €10 million spend for the arena has been raised directly by AIT. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport awarded €737,500 in funding towards the construction of the facility in 2012 under the Special Athletics Tracks Initiative. Athlone Town Council is contributing €250,000 over five years.

The AIT International Arena has a footprint of 6,818m2 and an overall building floor area of 9,715m2. Some 850 tonnes of structural steel and 50,000 concrete blocks went into the construction of the facility which can house 2,000 spectators.

Athlone Institute of Technology has some 6,000 students, including 450 international learners. The institute offers 50 programmes through the CAO, including degrees in sport management, sport science, sport therapy and nutrition.

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