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Are We Really Going To Put This Man In Charge Of The Olympics In Ireland?

Conor Neville
By Conor Neville
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The EGM of the Olympic Council of Ireland meets tomorrow to elect its new President.

Three candidates travel to the Conrad Hotel in Dublin in the hopes of securing enough support to succeed Pat Hickey. Here's a brief rundown on the contenders.

  • Sarah Keane - Swim Ireland CEO who has sat on the Olympic Council since 2014. A former national swimming champion and a one-time member of the Irish water polo team. She was a solicitor and was associate partner with Matheson Ormsby Prentence before being elected head of the Irish Amateur Swimming Association in 2004.
  • Bernard O'Byrne - Currently CEO of Basketball Ireland, he is best known to the public for his stint as Chief Executive of the FAI between 1996 and 2001. While there, he vehemently opposed the idea of bringing Wimbledon to Dublin and was credited/blamed with killing the project. Was the public face of the ultimately doomed Eircom Park dream. Previously an employee of Coca-Cola, Nestle, and CRH, he has, since leaving the FAI, served as CEO of the CityWest Hotel. He became CEO of Basketball Ireland in 2011. Only one of the trio who has held no role with the OCI.
  • Willie O'Brien - the current acting President of OCI. He has sat on the OCI committee for 20 years, the last 12 of which he has served as vice-president. He is regarded as very close to the outgoing President Pat Hickey. Had to face the media in Brazil after Hickey was detained.

It is a big day. Historically, these contests have been rare events. Pat Hickey was appointed President in 1989 on the recommendation of Lord Killanin, the former chief of the OCI and the IOC.

Over the next 27 years, Hickey came up for re-election at four year intervals. He was typically unopposed, with the notable exception of 2001 when he was challenged by Richard Burrows of Sailing Ireland. Burrows had the support of some of Ireland's most celebrated Olympians, as well as most of the sports media.

While Burrows won among representatives of the big glamour sports, Hickey deployed his familiar tactic of cultivating his support among the smaller niche sports, such as his own discipline of judo. He won easily 27-10 in the end.

In his resignation statement, Hickey promised to stay out of the vote altogether.

Of the contenders, one is unquestionably the closest to Hickey. Willie O'Brien was installed as acting President after Hickey was arrested in Brazil. He faced the cameras in the days following on behalf of the OCI.


O'Brien has been nominated for the Presidency by Archery Ireland, the Irish Ice Hockey Association, and the Irish Amateur Wrestling Association.

Today, all three contenders gave an interview to the Sport for Business website in which they laid out their intentions and ambitions. All three were asked about their favourite Irish Olympic memory.

Bizarrely, O'Brien chose Cian O'Connor winning gold at the 2004 Olympics, an achievement which was only soured by the minor detail that the horse was 'dopy' (sic).


Ireland were later stripped of the gold medal.


One of his answers implied that O'Brien will follow the same strategy employed by Pat Hickey in maintaining his power.


We have great opportunities to develop minor sports in Ireland through talent identification and financial support. Examples include Taekwondo, Table Tennis and Pentathlon.  Also additional funding, tactically used, for talented individuals. This can produce medals at Olympic Games as has been proved by Team GB in cycling and curling.

Like the other contenders, O'Brien was interviewed by Joanne Cantwell on Saturday Sport last Saturday.

He gave a very shaky performance in which he appeared to contradict himself on the matter of a recent report into OCI's governance structure.


The report carried out by Deloitte examined the OCI's governance following the Rio ticketing scandal. One of the principal recommendations was that term limits be introduced for all committee members. OCI committee members should be limited to two four-year terms.

He told Cantwell that "there are 25 recommendations (in the report), and I intend to make sure that each one of those recommendations are provided for, and are monitored by the International Olympic Council."

When Cantwell quite naturally pointed out that one of those key recommendations would disqualify him from the role of President, O'Brien began to stumble badly.


I disagree with it from the point of view of the continuity of service to the OCI. I spent two terms, eight years, as a committee member at ground floor level, learning from those experiences. And I’ve spent three terms, as first vice president, learning from the experiences. We will implement that recommendation. In order to implement them, I have to stay on, and work on implementing them.

O'Brien will implement the recommendations but only after he has ignored them long enough to take the role as President.

He was also forced to confirm that he traveled business class to Rio while the athletes flew in economy. Balls.ie revealed the flying arrangements of Hickey and the Irish Olympians shortly after the storm broke in Rio.


O'Brien: I believe that on a long haul trip like Rio, everybody should travel business class. Unfortunately, it’s such an expensive commodity, the OCI couldn’t afford that.

Cantwell: But they could afford it for members of the OCI?

O'Brien: They could afford it for them (laughs). I will admit to that.

On his closeness to Hickey, O'Brien trumpeted his "experience" in dealing with the IOC and said that Hickey was innocent until proven guilty.

I don’t believe that has anything to do with my presidency going forward. Pat Hickey was arrested. He is on bail, and he is innocent until proven guilty.

It was a remarkably bumbling display.

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