To The Olympics and Beyond

There are no short cuts to winning in sport, no overnight transformation success stories that aren’t based on hard graft away from the spotlight.

A few years ago Sport Ireland ran a campaign based on the idea of 364 days work leading to one moment in the glow of a performance. That level of dedication is demanded away from the track or the field as well and that is the basis against which we must pass first judgement on the efforts of the Olympic Council of Ireland to come back from a very dark place they were in a mere twelve months agao.

Speaking at our Sport for Business Women in Sport Conference last week OCI President Sarah Keane spoke of putting athletes first, and of making the OCI more relevant to sporting organisations.

Both of those aspirations are central to the seven year strategic plan which the OCI published yesterday ahead of an EGM to discuss other more prosaic changes in governance. Much media focus has been on elements of those today and we cover them here but it is important to focus on the long term declaration of where the OCI wants to be at the end of the Paris Olympic Cycle in 2024.

The plan is short but stronger for that, particularly in a time pressed world. There is no excuse for anyone involved in Olympic sport or with an interest as a supporter in commercial or just pure personal terms not to read it.

The Olympic Council effectively dragged us all through the mud last year. Ireland’s reputation on an international stage was hardly enhanced and certainly in the short term damaged by arrests in the dead of night, ticket touting allegations and Government enquiries.

It took away from the achievement of athletes and for those for whom the news is read only in headlines and soundbites, Ireland and Olympic Sport was chipped away at in many ways.

The election of Keane as a new President, backed up by Sarah O’Shea as Honorary General Secretary and by a strong supportive board was a start point.

Open and honest engagement with the political investigation that followed was another winning step forward and this strategic plan, backed by the level of consultation that went into it brings the organisation closer to the top of Irish sport.

The stated vision is to ‘Inspire the nation through the success of Irish Olympic athletes by improving our Olympic performance in each cycle.’ The evidence of this will be determined by performance and by medals.

More importantly perhaps, the delivery will depend on putting athletes first, providing practical, effective and value adding support and services to National sporting bodies and reaching the public through promoting sport as a cause for good.

Athletes

Athletes, coaches, support staff, friends and family are all name checked in the Putting Athletes First section and that is backed up by the simultaneous publication of a strategic plan from the Athletes Commission.

Closer partnership between performance teams in individual sports is on the roadmap, as well as with Sport Ireland and the Institute of Sport. Helping in the identification of, and application for, Olympic funded programme support will also make a tangible difference and ‘bring something to the table’ that will ease the closer relationships that need to be built.

Telling the story of Irish Olympians to a wider public is a key part of inspiring. For too long the Olympics has been a firefly on the Irish sporting calendar. We engage for two weeks every four years but too often the other days of toil, effort and success often go unnoticed. Social and owned media, as well as the explosion of different content and the increasing influence of brands is key to this.

Future partners and sponsors of Team Ireland need to be chosen as much for their reach as their ability to write a cheque. That started well under Electric Ireland over the last two cycles but needs to be more consistent in the down years to be as effective for the Olympic movement.

Financial independence

Financial independence is a critical fourth pillar, particularly given the alleged governance sins of the past.

There was no alleagation of misappropriation but the perception of an organisation representing one of the world’s wealthiest sporting bodies delivering little to the individual sports here is one that needs to change.

This will take time but the establishment of an Olympic Foundation Programme is a positive step, enabling commercial and philanthropic backing to find a home. Support from the IOC will also be sought and has already delivered over €300,000 in athlete supports announced last month.

The final strand is in operating to the highest standards. This is easy and essential to say, and actually not difficulat to manage once the genuine commitment is there.

A proper timetable of engagement with National Federations is essential and communication with all stakeholders will be a key part of staying on the track it has taken the best part of a year to climb onto.

Elsewhere we write about the challenges being faced in relation to one key area of governance emerging from this latest round of engagement but that is a short term issue and may not be resolved. The important thing is that it does not deflect from the good intention, and real commitment to make the Olympic Council, and Olympic sport, a more vibrant presence on the Irish sporting scene.

The Strategic Plan presents a clear map on how that is happening. It deserves to be accepted, supported and delivered over the coming years.

In 2018 Sport for Business will host 20 events linking sport and business in ways that make a difference to how we all do such a great job, as well as producing our Daily News Digest covering the commercial world of Irish sport.

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