Time to learn from mistakes so sailing can move on
SAILING:Olympic sailing success was toasted at yesterday’s Irish Times Sportswoman of the Year awards in Dublin but this week Irish sailing got a another sharp reminder of the other side of media focus too.
Two major newspaper stories last weekend highlighted shortcomings in the Irish sailing authorities’ handling of the Peter O’Leary betting allegations from 2008 which surfaced at the beginning of the London 2012 Sailing Olympics, and have questioned some of the generally accepted facts on the matter.
The sailing community, sponsors and supporters had hoped to put this sorry episode in the past. An important sector of their sport has for months been dragged through the mire in the most public way. In order to move on, questions have to be answered, and reassurance provided that lessons have been learned.
Despite the IOC report concluding with no more than a warning, it was a warning nevertheless – an important new protocol in 2008 had been transgressed. If sailing is to learn anything from the O’Leary affair, it should face up to, and report on, its own shortcomings at the height of the media storm this summer.
Before the Olympics, the ISA held not one but two pre-Olympic media briefings proclaiming it was aiming for gold at Weymouth. Not even the medal sports of boxing or equestrian held such elaborate city centre briefings with professional media handlers in attendance.
But as events at Weymouth subsequently showed, the management of the team was based on assumptions of an unclouded success. Planning for an adverse media situation is an integral part of a high-profile team management plan. Olympic sailing teams from around the world learned from the Ben Ainslie media boat incident in Perth and had “what if” scenarios prepared. Typically, this would involve taking the athlete out of the line of fire, briefing the athlete and support team and prepping the athlete for meeting the media.
The most important thing in these situations is to fully address the issue, and reduce the amount of speculation and opportunity for “media mileage”.
So, for example, was it really necessary for Peter O’Leary to wear a hoodie and dark glasses in the media area in Weymouth? Who advised this and why? With the wisdom that comes with hindsight, it would have been better to hold a press briefing once the story broke, confirm the facts, apologise for unknowingly breaching the code in 2008 and express the desire to get on with the sailing.
The ISA should concentrate on ensuring it has sailors fully briefed on what they can and cannot do. This is the job of team management, to assist sailors.
And finally, when something as serious as an IOC Ethics Committee report relating to an Irish sailing athlete is published, should it not evoke a measured response from the officer board of the ISA?