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'The best way to make us achieve and to bring home medals is for people to get behind us'

Tokyo-targeting Colin Judge and Martin Gordon hope Paralympics Ireland’s fundraiser helps them – and others – to The Next Level.

JUST UNDER €70,000 — and counting. Just over six months to go until Tokyo.

One day over, to be precise. Six months and a matter of hours, at this stage.

colin Irish Paralympic hopeful Colin Judge pictured in support of Paralympics Ireland’s new fundraising campaign ‘The Next Level’. Source: Simon Burch 00353872754849 Ireland

A new fundraising drive for Team Ireland at the Paralympic Games called ‘The Next Level’ was launched in late February.

An awareness and recognition campaign which calls on the public to help current and future Irish para-athletes scale new heights, the response has been overwhelming.

Some of the country’s top stars officially launched the fundraiser on The Late Late Show, before media briefings took place online the following week. There were another couple today with cyclist, Martin Gordon, and table tennis player, Colin Judge, both taking time out of their intense preparations to talk about ‘The Next Level’ and much more.

A little over a year on from Paralympic Ireland’s Six Months To Go event in late February 2020, the media gatherings this time around are very different. Zoom roundtables are a far cry from the face-to-face interviews at the Sport Ireland campus in Abbotstown, where, around the time last year, it was full steam ahead for Tokyo that summer despite whispers of this “fast-spreading coronavirus” and the risk of postponement.

One needs no reminder of what’s happened since, but this fundraising drive certainly highlights the concerning impact the pandemic has had on sport.

For Paralympics Ireland, additional costs of the Games delay and Covid-19 in general are estimated to rise to as much as €500,000, threatening the massive progress made in recent years.

The funds raised will be used to not only help remedy immediate costs, and for Tokyo 2021, but to bridge gaps to the best in the world on a more long-term basis — for Paralympic hopefuls eyeing Paris 2024, Los Angeles 2028 and beyond.

“We’ve had almost 2,000 individual donations and a huge amount of money raised,” Gordon told The42 today.

“What those contributions mean is invaluable to not only these games, but to future games and the future development of para-sport. We have reached such a high standard across our sports in Ireland and we’re only going to get better – and the best way to make us achieve and to bring home medals is for people to get behind us.

“There is a massive funding gap there, it needs to be filled, and by people pledging their support – in any way they can – at Paralympics.ie, will make all the difference in these Games to us, in our preparation and our performance in Tokyo, to give us all the services and provision on the ground over there — and also for future games in Paris in 2024 and LA in 2028.

“I think the most common word that’s come up today is ‘journey’. Paralympics is on a journey and we want that trajectory to keep going, and that’s where people’s support will allow that to happen.”

Judge — the only para-table tennis athlete competing for Paralympics Ireland — echoes his sentiments, heartened by the outpouring of support.

“The public have been hugely generous so far. €70,000 is obviously a massive amount of money and it goes a really long way in supporting us on our journey to Tokyo 2021 and beyond, becoming the best athletes that we can be.

“For me, the money isn’t only for us elite athletes. It’s also for the development and the guys coming up behind me. I’m speaking just for table tennis here, I obviously need to be supported and I’m very lucky to have Table Tennis Ireland and Paralympics Ireland back me 110%, put I think it’s a lot more difficult for the guys that have dreams of Paris 2024 or LA 2028, they don’t have access to the same resources than I do, so if the money raised could help development in the future, that would be absolutely massive as well.”

At the weekend, organisers confirmed that no overseas spectators will be permitted to attend this summer’s rearranged Olympic or Paralympic Games.

gordon Martin Gordon pictured in support of Paralympics Ireland’s new fundraising campaign ‘The Next Level’. Source: Simon Burch 00353872754849 Ireland

While it was widely expected, it is disappointing, though a decision Gordon and Judge — who are both yet to qualify — accept.

“I think it’s safety first and I think we’re all agreeing that the fact these games are going ahead is the greatest bonus and the greatest achievement of sport this year, in decades, in a century of the Olympic and Paralympic movement,” Gordon said.

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“I have no doubt that my family will be making the very best of it in Sligo and in Dublin and in-laws in Castlebar and they’re going to make the very best of it. They’re going to have a great time.

“My family would have gone out, they would have travelled – they were excited about it, they were all looking forward to it. But, they’re at peace with it, I’m at peace with it. I think there’ll probably be a marquee and bunting all over my parents’ house with a super size TV for it so they’ll make a lot of fun out of it, a lot of excitement.

“If they can have people over, if that’s allowed, I’d say all the neighbours would be there in Ireland to watch. There’ll be a bit of a carnival atmosphere at home all the same.”

Dubliner Judge added: “The crowd, that’s not something that I thought about too much. I’ve been very focused on qualifying, and when I hopefully qualify, I’ll be focussed on my performance.

“Having said that, it would have been nice to share it with my family and friends, absolutely, but look, Paris 2024 is only three years away after that so we have to be positive.

“To be honest, as a table tennis player here in Ireland, I’m well used to playing in front of no crowds, so it might work to my advantage,” he concluded with a grin.

You can get behind the team now at: https://paralympics.ie, and you can read more here. 

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Emma Duffy

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