An Unimagined Irish Olympic Story

The Annual General Meeting of the Olympic Federation of Ireland took place last night with a positive air that could hardly have been imagined amid the chaos that broke out over Pat Hickey a little over three years ago.

Last night’s meeting saw wave after wave of good news and intelligent planning laid before a room filled with sporting CEO’s and those who administer sport across the country.

That there were only two questions from the floor and one was to offer the congratulations of Irish sport to those who had led the change was an indication of the turnaround.

CEO Peter Sherrard kicked off his presentation with a video showreel of some of the moments that have lit up the last twelve months, his first at the helm, and they were plenty.

From performance success on the track, in the pool and on the various fields where Olympic sport is played, to a rebrand of the movement, new sponsorship deals, partnerships paving the way for a successful Tokyo Games and even the further look ahead with planning already underway for Paris 2024, this was a review which needed to be built on crumbling foundations but which has been done so.

Lessons

There are lessons to be taken from the turnaround that may be of benefit for those who will steer the ship of the FAI, a literal ten metres away from the door of the Sport Ireland Conference Centre where last night’s AGM took place.

Sarah Keane was a member of the Executive Committee or Board of the old Olympic Council of Ireland at the time when its walls came tumbling down in Rio.

Those who damn all those present on the FAI board should take heed that if there had been a complete break with those that went before that Keane would not have been able to lead the new charge.

She herself would argue that it is a significant team effort, which it is, and also that any one of the current Executive Committee might have been just as effective but the reality is that it was on her watch that such a rapid turnaround in fortunes has taken place.

Sherrard must take a bow as must Sarah O’Shea who has steered the organisation into calmer Governance waters. Other members present last night including Lochlann Walsh from Triathlon, Georgina Drumm from Athletics, Billy Kennedy from Boxing, Ciaran Gallagher from Gymnastics and Robert Norwood from Snow Sports have also been central to the turnaround but Keane was the one who bore the flag from the rubble and gathered them around to give their time, energy and effort.

Support

That resulted last night in an ability of the Olympic Federation to disburse €250,000 in additional support funding to 22 different sporting bodies.

Last year the figure was €200,000. Before that, it was ad hoc at best.

Money is only part of the process but it is a key enabling element.

Sports bid for a total amount of €723,000 showing the demand that there is.

Awards of between €5,000 and €20,000 were made last night to those 22 sports and will be applied across one of the three previously outlined categories.

In total €121,000 of grants were allocated to ‘Make a Difference’ projects, €57,000 to Performance Coach Support and €72,000 to National Federation Olympic Development support.

Many of the largest awards related to test event support ahead of Tokyo 2020 as sports gear up for next year’s Olympic Games. However, there was also support for Beijing 2022 preparations, with grants provided to both winter sports which applied for funding, the Irish Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation and Snowsports Association of Ireland.

Teams

Teams of 65 athletes for the European Games and 50 for the European Youth Olympic Festival will depart in the coming days and weeks with higher hopes and better prepared than ever before. Patricia Heberle as Chef de Mission for Tokyo 2020 knows that those games are now a little more than 400 days away.

She was given five minutes last night to update on preparation but she was hard-pressed to fit her presentation into three times that.

It felt as though she and her team were completely on top of things and will have Team Ireland in as ready a place as we have ever been this time next year. We learned that her next trip to Tokyo will include the viewing of ‘show’ apartments from the Olympic Village and what the bed linen will look like. For Rio, they were still building right up to the night before athletes were due to arrive.

In that sense, the new team at the Olympic Federation have been blessed with a better games on which they can expect to be tested.

The evidence from last night was that they will pass with flying colours and that their purpose, at least in part and as expressed by Sarah Keane last night to inspire the nation, is well on the road to delivery.

Eight Key Numbers

  • The Olympic Federation of Ireland Income rose last year from €1.334 million to €1.601 million.
  • Sport Ireland Funding rose from €300,000 to €340,000
  • International Olympic Committee Funding rose from €650,787 to €994,779
  • European Olympic Committee Funding fell from €164,035 to €120,187
  • Sponsorship income rose from €30,220 to €132,664
  • Expenditure on the ‘clean up’ from Rio fell from €349,138 to €52,403
  • Expenditure on the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongyang was €162,319
  • Expenditure on the Youth Games in Buenos Aires was €88,366

 


Image credit: Sam Barnes, Sportsfile

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