Pat Hickey’s Long Shadow

Pat Hickey continues to cast a long shadow over the Olympic Council of Ireland and that is unlikely to change in the short term.

Emotions run high when he comes into a conversation around Governance within Irish sport and the IOC’s insistence that he retain a seat on the Executive Committee of the Olympic Council of Ireland means that he has not gone away.

He dominated the administration of sport in Ireland over almost three decades, coming to power in a different age where different standards were the norm and where strength of purpose and an ability to know the way in which the wheels of power moved through the gears were more important than reporting at every stage and the more modern concept in business at least of full transparency.


Hickey was a player, in the mould of others in positions of authority, many of whom have now passed into retirement or worse.

He represented Ireland to the best of his ability on terms which to him were wholly acceptable and in keeping with power politics at that level. It may not have been to everyones taste but lest we forget no laws were broken, no charges brought (yet) to a court of law and there was no removal from any office other than through his own stepping away voluntarily.

Why is this still relevant one year on from the Rio controversy? Well the Olympic Council of Ireland wants to move to become a paragon of good governance and that includes the imposition of time limits on Directors. They want, and it is almost universally accepted to be a good thing, to have a limit of two terms or eight years on the contribution of any one individual.


The International Olympic Committee though has thrown a spanner in the works saying that this is in breach of the Olympic Charter and that as a member of the International Olympic Committee, alongside Kings, Princesses and Potentates, Pat Hickey must retain his place on the Olympic Council of Ireland for as long as he remains at their top table.

Read about the Launch of the Olympic Council of Ireland Strategic Plan

The OCI is an independent body, subject to Irish laws and best practice but it is also a representative body of the IOC and so, well, different.

Much like an embassy on foreign soil is immune to local laws and practices of the host country, so does the IOC see it’s national committees.

No Surrender

This is not an Irish issue. The reason that the IOC is seemingly brooking no surrender on this relates more to the precedent it would set in other parts of the world where local control may be less democratic and outside influence of any form less openly welcomed.

The OCI has pushed back this final change to its constitution to early in the New Year and has expressed a desire to discuss it further with the IOC.

Sarah Keane, Sarah O’Shea and the new team have scored some big wins in terms of reputation, governance and restoration of confidence in the Olympic movement. They are still subject though to global forces.

That the effective and ambitious strategic plan to 2024 should be published on the same day as Russia is banned from competing at the next Winter Olympics, only months before it hosts the FIFA World Cup, is indicative of the long road that Olympic Sport still has to travel.

Pyrrhic Victory

It is tempting to think that a solution to this may be found in Pat Hickey stepping down fully and formally from his engagements with the IOC and the OCI but the principle of term limits would then make it impossible as things stand for any Irish representative to be elected to the International Governing Body. If that impacts on funding and other assistance then it may be a pyrrhic victory.

Perhaps the OCI needs to know when the battles need to be fought and can be won.

It may be uncomfortable to back down. It would be very much so should Mr Hickey exercise his right to sit at a meeting in the New Year.

Sometimes though life is not as comfortable as we’d like.

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