Presidental reception for Team Ireland has some notable absentees

President Higgins praises Olympic athletes but says Rio threw up ‘serious issues’

President Michael D Higgins and his wife, Sabina Higgins, with Olympic silver medalist Annalise Murphy at Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday. Photograph: Julian Behal/Maxwell/PA Wire

A reception hosted by President Michael D Higgins for the Irish Olympic team was conspicuous by those who were absent as much as by those who attended.

Silver medallists Paul and Gary O’Donovan were unavoidably absent given Paul’s heroics in winning gold in the World Rowing Championship. Mr Higgins wished them well and hoped their Skibbereen homecoming tonight would be a “decorous affair”.

There was a no show from the boxers after a miserable Olympics and yet more controversy – this time over betting allegations.

Pat Hickey, who has temporarily stepped down as president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), remains in a Rio de Janeiro jail.


Other members of the OCI including the acting president William O'Brien did attend, as did Minister for Sport Shane Ross and Minister of State Patrick O'Donovan. All left without saying anything on the controversies.

‘Serious issues’

In his address to the athletes, Mr Higgins made no direct reference to the OCI ticketing controversy but neither did he avoid the elephant in the room.

He admitted there were “serious issues” for both the Olympic movement and Ireland arising out of the Games.

These included doping, questionable refereeing decisions and what he called “the controversy around the administration of our sports”.

Nevertheless, the President was determined to accentuate the positive. Medals, he said, were a “crude measure” of success, and by other criteria Ireland had a better Olympics in Rio than in London.

There had been 14 top 10 finishes in Rio compared to eight in London, and 14 top 20 finishes compared to six in London.

Some 26 members of Team Ireland attended the Áras an Uachtaráin reception hosted by Mr Higgins and his wife, Sabina. Among them was silver medallist Annalise Murphy who was greeted by the President and his wife with a hug. "So hard won and so well won," the President told Murphy, who brought her family and her training partner, Sarah Winther, along.

Rower Sinead Lynch, who finished sixth in the Olympic final in the double sculls, brought her husband, Sam, a former Olympic rower himself, and their children Clodagh (5), Molly (3) and Hannah (2).

Sailor Saskia Tidey brought her parents. Her father is the former supermarket boss Don Tidey.

The President also had a hug for badminton player Scott Evans. Wisely, Evans, who won two matches at the Olympics, kept his shirt on for the occasion. When Mrs Higgins reminded her husband that badminton was the only sport he had ever played, he replied: “Yes, in prehistoric Ireland.”

The statuesque Harte twins, Conor and David, all 6ft 5in of them, attended the event along with other members of the first Irish hockey team to compete in the Olympics since 1908.

Thomas Barr, who finished an agonising fourth in the 400m hurdles, was introduced as the man with the "biggest smile in sport". Mr Higgins recalled watching his race in Limerick and predicted he would have a big future.

Barr said afterwards he would “leave the politics to the politicians”, and added: “I was thrilled to be part of such a positive spin on the Games given how much negativity was around the Games.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times