Belfast Telegraph

Mills plans GB switch after Olympics snub

Joanna Mills has applied to UK Athletics to be considered for Great Britain in future international team competitions.

This comes after last summer's highly controversial saga when the Northern Ireland 400m champion was not selected for Ireland’s Olympic 4x400m relay squad despite having a faster time than southern counterpart Catriona Cuddihy who was included in the six-strong panel.

The Ballymena & Antrim AC runner's application requires approval from three separate bodies — UK Athletics, Athletics Ireland (the body she is proposing to leave) and the IAAF which is the World governing body.

Any of these organisations can block the request for a lengthy period — but not prevent it.

However it is not envisaged that this will happen.

Assuming there are no objections, the 19-year-old would then be required to serve a ban in the region of 12 months from international competition which would commence from July 12 this year — the last date on which she represented Ireland, in the World Junior Championships in Barcelona.

This would then in theory allow the QUB dental student to compete for GB in the European U23 Championships in Finland next July, assuming she is selected.

As her ban will have been completed on the second day of these championships she would only be eligible to compete in the 4x400m relay but not the individual event.

Mills, ranked sixth in the Irish 400m list with a time of 54.41 seconds, was omitted from the Olympic squad last July in favour of Cuddihy who was ranked seventh with a time of 54.59.

At the time Athletics Ireland defended the decision by referring to some key selection criteria such as the need to show both the potential to improve plus international team experience.

In an angry response, Mills’ coach Ian Neely asked if the teenager didn't fall into the “potential to improve” category then who did?

He also pointed to her extensive international experience at European Youth and Junior levels plus participation in the Commonwealth Games.

Mills appealed her exclusion from the Olympics to an Athletics Ireland Appeal Panel and won her case. However, in a bizarre twist to the saga Cuddihy — whose sister Joanne was a member of the relay team — then appealed that decision to the Olympic Council of Ireland with a controversial judgment going in her favour.

The Mills camp received legal advice that there were strong grounds on which to lodge an appeal against that decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport which had convened in London for the Olympics.

However by that time Mills felt that the debilitating emotional and physical effects had been such that “for her own good and future” she was not prepared to go to the Arbitration Court.

The Ballyclare runner said that having been told twice that she wasn't selected for the Olympics she didn't want to go through the process a third time even though there was a good chance of success.

Neither Mills nor coach Neely were prepared to comment on the decision to opt for GB.

However it is clear from this latest development that there remains a significant lack of trust as a result of this sorry saga.

The question remains as to whether Irish 400m relay teams will in future be selected solely on the only grounds that matter — namely performances.

Belfast Telegraph

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