Confusion continues over homecoming for athletes
IRISH chef de mission Sonia O’Sullivan said she only heard last week that a homecoming was planned for the Irish Olympians.
The absence of an official homecoming for the Irish Olympic team, which recorded Ireland’s best result in any games since 1956, has led to consternation and a degree of embarrassment.
On RTÉ yesterday afternoon former world champion boxer Bernard Dunne described it as “an absolute shambles” while Fianna Fáil spokesman on sport Timmy Dooley said the event, which was due to take place in Dublin City Centre, would have happened had it been “controlled and professionally planned”.
Instead, the Olympic team will arrive back into Dublin Airport Terminal 2 at 1.25pm for a private reception which will not be open to the public. It will be followed by a press conference.
The athletes will go their separate ways after that though public receptions will be held for gold medalist Katie Taylor in Bray and silver medalist John Joe Nevin in Mullingar later on.
However, an Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) spokesman said he was “pretty certain” there would be a public dimension to a state reception for the athletes at some stage later in the week. The most likely day is Friday.
He said the decision was taken by Team Ireland and officials not to have a public reception today because many are tired and have not seen their families for weeks.
“Once they get home and refreshed, they will be ready to go again,” he added.
He denied that anybody in the OCI had blamed the scuppering of a reception today on Katie Taylor’s father Peter and that Mr Taylor had not been party at all to the decision not to go ahead with the reception.
Yesterday, boxing pundit Mick Dowling said Mr Taylor was upset by suggestions that he had twarted a Dublin homecoming.
He was upset at a time when he should be so happy and that both he and his daughter were deeply grateful for the support provided by Irish taxpayers who partially funded Taylor’s success, Mr Dowling added.
“They would have been delighted to come by open top coach from the airport right through the city centre and to repay the Irish public who have taken her and the rest of the squad to their heart,” he explained.
Katie Taylor’s triumphant homecoming will begin at 4pm with an open top bus through Bray to the seafront where there will be a concert and fireworks afterwards.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin Naoise O’Muiri said Dublin City Council had been in negotiations with the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) since August 2nd and were ready to “push the button” on a homecoming event, but it was scuppered because the athletes did not want one.
“I’m a sports fan. I’m disappointed for the public. Without the support of the athletes it would not be fair on the taxpayer,” he said.
He confirmed that an approach to private sector sponsors to fund some of the costs had been unsuccessful, but money had been found for the event. “Funding was not an issue,” he said.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s programme, former Olympic silver medalist Sonia O’Sullivan said she could understand the public disappointment “but it has to be done properly”.
She said it was not an appropriate day for a public reception.
“Nobody spoke to me about it. It should have been planned properly and not just assumed.”
She said the athletes themselves had not been consulted about a homecoming. “They should have been contacted by Dublin City Council. You can’t make decisions for people without asking the people.”
The Minister of State for Sport Michael Ring said the wishes of the athletes had to be respected and he did not want to see their achievements spoilt by a row.
He also maintained the athletes should have been consulted first before any homecoming was organised.
“There was great excitement and joy over the last two weeks and I know people want to express their support,” he said.