Looking to the Olympic Future

The report ran to 226 pages, excluding appendices, and the hearings at the Oireachtas Committee convened to probe them stretched over two days.

Minister Ross and Minister of State Griffin were there to talk about how the report gave us what we needed to know, including the wealth of emails that told the story of the Olympic scandal even if the words of those closest to it were mute.

Kieran Mulvey and John Treacy were there from Sport Ireland giving insight into how the challenges of the OCI dated back some way further than Rio, even if that was deemed the stop point for Judge Moran to investigate.

The final turn before Chairman Fergus O’Dowd and his committee was the person who, more than any other, has the job to turn the `Olympics in Ireland back towards a body for the athletes, rather the administrators, Sarah Keane.

Keane has been rightly praised since stepping forward as part of the three person crisis sub committee of the OCI for the efforts she is making to transform the governance in the organisation.

She has also had to put her head down in the face of some barbed criticism from the departing ‘old guard’ of the committee who painted here as someone driving the Council to the poor house by spending money on reports and legal advice.

There was a sense among some of the Committee that before looking to the future they wanted to investigate why she had spent two years on the Council and only at the end was seen to come out against the practices it was prey to.

“Where were you?” was the undertone in advance of her sitting before them but of all the words spoken through the week, hers were the most convincing in heading off that shadow.

She spoke of how when she came onto the Executive Committee that the average tenure of her fellow members was nineteen years.  That is a daunting environment to step into and one can only imagine that the practices of ‘management’ engaged in by the long term President were hardly conducive to a dissenting voice.

She wanted to listen and to absorb the workings of the OCI and in the two years leading up to Rio attended nine Executive Committee Meetings.

As CEO of her own organisation, she is familiar with how things can work in this world.  She told us she was aware of Pat Hickey stepping down post-Rio and made the decision that that would be the point at which what she saw as much-needed reform should be raised.

Few could have foreseen that it would be just so in such spectacular fashion.

Pat Hickey

Pat Hickey refused to come before the committee or to engage with Judge Moran on his report.  His actions though have been laid out in the report and he has not been quite so demure when it has come to speaking to the Irish Times to press his case that his name has been cleared of any criminal activity in the report and that he was trying to do his best for the Olympic Council of Ireland at all times.

He still has to win his argument with the Brazilian justice system and may yet find himself called before the Oireachtas Committee to answer specific questions about the contracts with THG that seemingly extend to 2016 but which no one else at the OCI was aware of until last week.

The likelihood is that while a cloud hangs over THG from Rio, that Tokyo and subsequent Local Organising Committee’s will withhold their status as Authorised Ticket Resellers in the same way as Pyeongchang has done for next February.

At worst it seems then that the OCI will have to operate a twin-track discussion with alternative providers, if that is permitted, in order to provide ticketing for future Olympic Games.

Of greater concern might be the Minister withholding funding until such time as the OCI has proven itself to be ‘fit and proper’ to receive Government funding.

Already in advance of this, the process for funding through Sport Ireland was different to other bodies with funding only provided for vouched expenses in providing a service to Olympians and for specific agreed programmes.

The OCI money was in that way always controlled more tightly than others for whom the ‘core funding’ goes to pay salaries and admin expenses.

To that end, the money paid by the state to the OCI, totalling €1.7 million over the course of the race to Rio, has been very well accounted for.

The distribution of money to sporting bodies is a matter for Sport Ireland directly as opposed to the Department though in a case like this political considerations do need to be taken into account.

Budget 2018

Negotiation over the overall Sport budget for 2018 will be underway as part of the national budget process and money to the OCI should form part of that given what we now can assume about the new constitution of the management of the organisation and the shortening horizon towards the next Games.

It is right that Sarah Keane should lead the organisation through what will be difficult years ahead.  Restoring the confidence of the public, of the athletes, of the wider sporting community and the business partners that should be involved in an Irish Olympic adventure will not be easy in any way but by her words and by her actions she is the right person to face the challenge.

There is an old saying that we can do nothing to alter the past but everything to alter the future.  Pat Hickey’s shadow will continue to fall on the Irish Olympic Council for a long time to come  but should be

Pat Hickey’s shadow will continue to fall on the Irish Olympic Council for a long time to come.

His own legacy battles are his own now and justice will doubtless win through in whatever form that takes.

They should not be a negative factor in the capacity of Irish Olympic athletes to compete on a world stage and represent themselves and Ireland to the best of their ability .wit whatever support is needed.  We need to move on.

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