No jackets required for Ireland's 90 officials
The Irish blazerati will be conspicuous by their absence in London, as Ireland’s back-up team will don casual sports gear. IAN O’RIORDANreports
WHEN PAT Hickey found himself defending the fact that accompanying the 65 Irish competitors at the London Olympics would be 90 officials, he promptly pointed out they were not “blazers”, but “experts”.
Although the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) is rarely caught wearing anything other than a blazer, Hickey’s clarification was apt: for the first time, none of Ireland’s accredited officials are being issued with a blazer. Instead, casual sporting attire will be designed for their roles.
“These are the coaches, the physios, the nutritionists,” explained Hickey, “and by that I mean every sort of back-up that an athlete could need.”
Indeed most countries end up sending far more officials than competitors. On Monday, the British Olympic Committee (BOC) confirmed their final entry of 542 competitors, across 26 sports, plus a backroom team of 819, which includes 519 full-time support staff, and 300 voluntary or part-time support staff – for a grand total of 1,361.
The Irish total of 155 seems modest by comparison, even accounting for the differences in population. With 14 sports represented, it will be the most diverse Irish team in Olympic history, although the total of 65 competitors is not the largest (that record still rests with the London Olympics team of 1948, when the Irish entry officially numbered 100, but only 80 got to compete, as politics, in some cases, interfered).
Of the 90 officials listed to work with Ireland in London, only 76 are fully accredited, and the rest entitled to “rotate accreditations”.
The accreditation of national Olympic committees is based on the number of competitors qualified, and with that the entitlement to full or rotated accreditations. Athletics Ireland (AI), for example, are entitled to two additional personal coach accreditations per day.
“The way it works is we’re entitled to two daily personal coaches accreditation, for use each day,” explains Patsy McGonagle, athletics team manager at the Games. “This is based on the number of athletes we’ve qualified, or 23, and we can rotate these passes each day, but only use two coaches at a time.
“Now there may be some days when we would have five athletes in action, all looking to bring in their personal coaches, but we have to prioritise, and can only ever allow two of those personal coaches at a time.”
McGonagle is travelling to his fourth Olympics, and third as Irish Athletics team manager (after Sydney 2000, and Beijing 2008). The 1948 Irish team in London included his father, Lieut Pat McGonagle, who was part of the 13-man soccer squad (who lost 2-1 to the Netherlands).
“You do get to enjoy some of the Olympic excitement,” he says, “but at the same time you can get caught up in whatever controversy or negativity that might arise. There was a bit of that in Sydney, with the gear row, but for the most part I did get to enjoy Beijing. There is always some big fear about something, as well. Like in Beijing it was how athletes would cope with the smog. As it turned out the there no problem at all.”
For physical therapist Ger Hartmann, London marks his sixth Olympics – he worked solo in Barcelona in 1992 with, as it turned out, 11 medal winners, then with the OCI in Atlanta in 1996, and for the last three Olympics, with the British Olympic team.
“I’m three weeks and two days committed to team Ireland,” says Hartmann, “and there’s not one penny remuneration here, and that goes for all of us in the medical team. We’re giving our full commitment to be part of the Olympic movement, and to be a part of team Ireland. I was on £500 a day when I was with the British Olympic team.
“But I take great honour in this position. I started with the OCI in 1996 in Atlanta, and I was asked to come back on board for the last two Olympics. But at the time a high proportion of my athletes were actually with the British team, such as Paula Radcliffe, so it just wouldn’t have been possible to give the Irish team my full commitment.