This time last year Sarah Keane stood before the Irish Marketing Institute Summer of Sport gathering and spoke of the challenges that were unfolding in her role as a member of the Olympic Council of Ireland.
It was not a good time but 12 months is long enough to find solutions and today that body stands in a regard that was hard to envisage as its reputation was shredded over issues of governance and ticketing a long way from the Olympic ideals it is supposed to uphold.
Yesterday’s speech was a powerful one on the subject of resilience. It was delivered with feeling from four pages of handwritten notes, complete with scratchings out, edits and changes of emphasis that show this was well thought out and using words carefully chosen.
It was a speech that serves as a paean of praise to sport and to the resilience it teaches us in the face of adversity.
Keane spoke of sport being based around a set of shared beliefs and a sense of belonging that connects us better now, more importantly than ever before, when belonging in terms of social media is at a less deep level than before.
Being involved in creating a culture that is based on high performance but with morals, something that is bigger than just the winning and which is important to people in a very real way is what being involved in sport is all about.
Keane is nothing if not a fighter. This was not an apologia for the sins of the past in terms of governance. It was a statement that sport was now in a better place than ever before.
“We have 70 sports around the country where investment has been made, people developed and participation rates rising among those who want to play not because they are good but because they can.”
“Sport is more inclusive than ever before, more welcoming of those with ability and disability, regardless of background, colour or gender.”
“We who are charged with managing sport and its delivery at every level have to set a high bar when it comes to governance. We have to be seen as fit for purpose in the modern world and we have to be bold in presenting all sports and the potential they have for people, for sponsors, and for our society.”
The Olympic Council of Ireland has been through the wars this past twelve months but they have emerged a stronger force. They are currently undergoing a strategic review of what they do and how they do it to be published shortly.
That, together with the credibility of those now at the helm, will give them the opportunity to start to bring back commercial partners around the Olympic movement. It may be too late for a major partner to be involved with the Winter Games next February but this is a long game.
Keane has shown her own resilience in battling through what was a unedifying power struggle between the old way and the new way. She has every right to talk about how powerful sport is in teaching that. She has every reason to be hopeful that when the question of partnership comes up again that the Olympics in Ireland will be treated with respect and given a fair hearing.
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