A generation of young athletes “could be lost” because St Columb’s Park running track is too dangerous, a senior running coach has said.
Foyle Valley Athletics Club coach Gabriel Bell has branded the track a “hazard”, adding that a generation of young local athletes could be “lost” as a result.
The club, which is based at St Columb’s Park, has demanded action from Derry City Council to refurbish the track to a standard that is “fit for use” by both junior and senior athletes in the city.
Mr Bell told the ‘Journal’ that what’s needed is a facility like the one at Templemore Sports Complex, which is home to an all-weather synthetic track and a lock-up cabin.
“In recent times we’ve been unable to use the track at all. It’s just become too dangerous - it’s simply not suitable for running.”
Last summer,Derry City Council carried out several changes to facilitate a revamped stadium but the work made the situation worse for runners, Mr Bell said. “The plan was that the council would use the stadium to hold open air concerts but unfortunately for the athletics fraternity, changes to the running track were an absolute disaster.
“The entire track is too heavily covered with fine gravel, which will not compact - the fine gravel becomes displaced with a high potential of injury to a runner.” The work in 2012 also removed a water jump and shortened the distance of the inside lane to well under the regulation 400 metres.
Mr Bell said that the surface of the track is not the only problem. “Even if it was laid properly we’d be unable to use it during the winter months because there is no lighting. We were given an undertaking by Derry City Council that lighting would be in place for this autumn and we hope that the council will honour this pledge. We can not have youngsters in our charge running in darkness - it’s too dangerous.”
“It’s strewn with glass from bottles every day. Dog fouling is also a widespread problem.
“It’s all down to the track being accessible to anyone and not closed off for athletics use only. There are serious health and safety issues there at the moment and it will result in a lost generation of runners here.
“We’re terribly disappointed with the treatment we’re getting. In the past we could manage to run on the track even though we had to endure several potholes that we filled on lots of occasions.
A deputation from Foyle Valley Athletics Club was received by Derry City Council in recent months. During the meeting the club made a detailed presentation on the need for an upgraded athletics facility.
“A steady flow of emails have been exchanged between the council and our club.
“However despite promise after promise from council not one stone on the running track has been turned. None of the points raised have been physically addressed.”
A spokesperson for Derry City Council said there are “no immediate plans” to upgrade the running track at St Columb’s Park.