‘Serious issues’ over Irish part in Olympics, says Michael D Higgins

President makes comments at reception for Team Ireland at Áras an Uachtaráin

Serious doping and administration issues surrounding Ireland's part in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games could undermine public confidence in sports, President Michael D Higgins has warned.

The Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) has been embroiled in major controversy after its president Pat Hickey was arrested during a Brazilian police investigation into alleged ticket touting at Rio 2016.

Irish boxer Michael O’Reilly tested positive for a banned substance.

There was also controversy over a series of boxing result decisions at the Games.


President Higgins held a reception for the Irish Olympics team at Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin.

‘Serious issues’

He admitted there were “serious issues” surrounding Ireland’s involvement in the Olympics, but that they should not overlook the achievements of the athletes involved.

Some 26 members of Team Ireland, back from Rio de Janeiro, attended the Áras an Uachtaráin reception hosted by President Higgins and his wife Sabina.

The President acknowledged the Rio Games had thrown up “serious issues” for both the Olympic movement and for Ireland. These included doping, questionable refereeing decisions and what he called “the controversy around the administration of our sports”.

He added: “Each of these issues, if not adequately addressed, has the potential to undermine public confidence in our athletes, in our sporting administration and in the fairness of international sporting competition itself.”

President Higgins welcomed the justice of awarding a bronze medal won at the London Olympics to Rob Heffernan, and the gold medal won at the World Championships in Berlin to Olive Loughnane.

Among those present at the reception at the Áras were silver medallist Annalise Murphy and her family, Thomas Barr, who finished fourth in the 400 metres, diver Oliver Dingley and several members of the hockey, rowing and equestrian teams.

Conspicuously absent

Conspicuous by their absences were the O'Donovan brothers, Paul and Gary, who are making their way back from the World Rowing Championships in Rotterdam, where Paul won gold.

None of the boxers were present either, though Paddy Barnes, the Irish flag bearer in the opening ceremony, was listed to attend.

President Higgins told them that medals were a “crude measure” of success, and by other criteria Ireland had 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.

A ‘decorous’ homecoming

President Higgins acknowledged the success of the O'Donovan brothers and hoped there would be a "decorous" homecoming in Skibbereen.

He said he hoped the success of the athletes “will encourage young people to participate in some of the less traditional but rapidly growing sports, that they get the opportunity to train to elite level and to reach the heights of the Olympic Games in years to come”.

Minister for Sport Shane Ross was there with his deputy Patrick O'Donovan, along with several members of the OCI, including vice-president William O'Brien. None spoke at the reception.

Afterwards, Thomas Barr said the controversies were “politics - and we’ll leave that to the politicians”.

Barr said he was happy to be a positive story out of the Games. “I was actually thrilled to be part of such a positive spin on the Games considering there was so much negativity around it.”

Additional reporting: Press Association

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times