Agreement was reached yesterday between the Olympic Council of Ireland and The Hospitality Group which effectively brings to an end one of the most contentious and examined examples of sports governance gone awry that the state has ever witnessed.
The two sides realised they had a problem, albeit not one which was being fully questioned under any legal statutes. This was in many ways a reputational issue and when that is damaged you have to find a way to get it back.
It was just as much the case for THG as for the OCI though in the latters case the very real threat of no Government funding and no realistic appeal to commercial partners when a cloud hung over the Howth HQ presented a real and present danger to Irish preparations for the Olympic Game sin Korea next February and Toky in 2020.
So they did what they had to do. At noon yesterday the Olympic Council issued a statement that read:
Following a mediation carried out by former Supreme Court Judge Mr Justice Finnegan, THG and the Olympic Council of Ireland (“OCI”) wish to announce that they have reached an agreement to terminate the contracts agreed between the parties in 2016 that relate to the 2018-2026 Olympic Games.
OCI accepts that these contracts were enforceable as between the parties and that THG fully intended performing its contractual obligations.
Both parties agreed that with THG reducing its business activities in Ireland that this would be the most appropriate course of action in the interests of Irish athletes and the wider Irish public.
THG has been the OCI’s most significant commercial partner since coming on board in 2010. The OCI wishes to acknowledge THG’s willingness to reach an amicable resolution in this matter.
There was no regret, no anger, no blame, just a willingness on both sides to realise this was a relationship damaged beyond repair and that a dignified exit was the only option that would leave both parties able to walk away and start again.
This should free up money withheld from Sport Ireland that will go towards athlete programmes and preparation. No state money goes towards the administration of the OCI as this is paid out of International Olympic Council funding in a way that is unique in Irish sport but enables greater transparency and accountability for public spending that suits all sides in the new management in place under President Sarah Keane since the turn of this year.
It was a messy business throughout and there are still loose ends with the pending trial of Pat Hickey in Brazil but that is now to all intents and purposes divorced from the future of Irish Olympic participation. That always had to be the end goal for the OCI, Sport Ireland and the Department.
There are still matters of governance too that need to be completed as opposed to aspired to, but there is a sense of confidence that this will all happen.
On the other side THG can return to its core business of providing corporate hospitality at major sporting events and the danger of reputation damage is also lessened by the reference to the fact that these were good contracts, that they would have been delivered but that ‘a reduction of business activities in Ireland’ meant this was the ‘most appropriate course of action.’
The words of the statement have been carefully chosen, as should always be the case, and they reflect an acceptance on both sides of what needed to be done.
Now the job at hand will be to rebuild confidence in the wider public and the business community that the spirit of the Olympics can be rekindled. It will be a long journey but in an Olympic cycle that is always the case and while there will be setbacks along the way at least now there is a horizon that can be seen, no longer shrouded quite so deep in the actions of the past.
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