Olympic Council of Ireland: passing on the torch

New president Sarah Keane must navigate uncertain path following Rio fallout

The vote was cast and the result announced with surprising serenity. And so began a quiet revolution within the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI).

Any fear that the old guard would have to be dragged away kicking and screaming was replaced by their slow ushering out the side doors.

With that also came the sense the OCI is entering a new era, its future path cleared although not yet certain.

What unfolded at its EGM in Dublin last week was primarily a vote for change.


However, the real challenge of rebranding the OCI and giving it greater relevance within Irish sport begins now.

Leading the charge is Sarah Keane, the current chief executive of Swim Ireland and an OCI executive committee member since 2014.

She is its first new president in almost three decades, Pat Hickey previously holding the position, largely unchallenged, since 1989.

Hickey may have improved the OCI's finances but at some cost: an independent report by Deloitte last year suggested the organisation was falling seriously short on good governance.

Keane’s election to the presidency was a virtual landslide. She won 29 of the 43 votes – more than double that of her main rival Willie O’Brien.

A member of the organisation since 1996, O’Brien represented the Hickey loyalists, having served as president since Hickey stepped down last August in light of the Rio ticket-touting allegations.

However, Hickey's presence was still felt on the night: OCI general secretary Dermot Henihan led a glowing tribute that briefly threatened to quell any pending revolution.

But it was short-lived as Henihan would later lose his position to Sarah O'Shea, a newcomer to the OCI; Colm Barrington (sailing) was elected vice president and Robert Norwood (snowsports) 2nd vice president.

It left treasurer Willie Kennedy, who was elected unopposed, as the only existing officer.

Six of the seven executive committee members are also newcomers – boxer Darren O’Neill is the only exception.

Keane has turned around the fortunes of Swim Ireland since taking over as chief executive in 2004.

She appeared to say all the right things in the aftermath of the OCI election, promising better support for our “world class athletes, coaches, and administrators” while also welcoming a sit down with Hickey, if necessary, to help resolve some of the existing conflicts and lack of transparency within the OCI.

There has yet to be full disclosure on the Rio ticketing controversy and the OCI’s finances have been badly effected too.

Keane’s immediate priority may well be to ensure the OCI is only properly heard of once every four years.

But with a Government inquiry into events in Rio – and beyond – due to report next month, that is an impossible task – in the short term at least.