Hickey blames sports council in vitriolic broadside


OIREACHTAS JOINT COMMITTEE ON SPORT:OLYMPIC COUNCIL of Ireland (OCI) president Pat Hickey came before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Sport yesterday expecting some hard-hitting questions about the increasingly bitter fall-out from Beijing, but typical of Hickey, he got the hits in first.

In his opening presentation, which he insisted be read out for the record, Hickey launched into a sweeping and vitriolic broadside against the Irish Sports Council (ISC), who he blamed for Ireland’s disappointing experience in Beijing last August – despite the medal success of the boxers.

Hickey first expressed his disappointment at the “condescending attitude” shown by ISC chief executive John Treacy towards the OCI, at their similar hearing last month – and then he moved on to the harder stuff.

“It’s embarrassing to witness the limited progress made by the Sports Council over the past 14 years in the development of systems and structures to support our national federations,” he said – before promptly adding that the ISC is “a quango that is quite prepared to bask in the glory of Ireland’s brilliant rugby Grand Slam, even though its contribution was minimal” and “at the same time it is not short of trying to subsume Ireland’s Olympic national federations, even the OCI itself”.

Hickey accused the ISC of using “cheque-book politics” and having “no respect for the autonomy of the associations”, and that all this “is done in the guise of protecting the public purse”.

Clearly the relationship between the OCI and ISC is at an all-time low, but Hickey didn’t hesitate in claiming whose fault that was: “John Treacy says his door his open – but is there anybody inside the door?” The best solution, he claimed, was for the Minister for Sport, Martin Cullen, to establish a special London 2012 Performance Task Force to transfer funding and service budgets to the Irish Institute of Sport and the OCI and that such “urgent action is required immediately”.

When the committee recovered from the shock of Hickey’s tone – and that took a while – they too agreed urgent action was needed, and ultimately called on the Minister to bring Hickey and Treacy together and exhort them to start getting along.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell said she was “gobsmacked” by Hickey’s presentation, although in a way it was “welcomingly honest”, but it seemed the Olympics here “were not at all about the athletes, but the blazers” – and “what everyone here wants to know is how on earth we can fix this?”

To say she was “surprised” by Hickey’s comments, noted Deputy Mary Upton, “would be an understatement”, but she wanted to know what effort Hickey himself had made in addressing the issues.

The duplication of the OCI’s and ISC’s Beijing reports, and their contrasting findings, was also raised, and Hickey explained that by claiming the ISC had failed to include the OCI representations in the Athens 2004 Review. Deputy John O’Mahony, who is also the Mayo football manager, seemed to accept this but still wanted to know if there was any way the relationship between the two can be amended.

Deputy Michael Ring was so “amazed” by the content of Hickey’s presentation that he said it should be no surprise we did so badly in Beijing, “when the spirit in the camp is so bad”.

Later, Senator Jerry Buttimer questioned the “explosive” words of Hickey, which seemed to be all about a power struggle, and not about Irish sport – and with that wondered if the the OCI and ISC should disband, and a whole new group set up in the place?

Deputy Upton agreed such a “poisonous atmosphere” needed to be resolved by the Minister’s intervention because “we have to get back to the true spirit of the Olympics for the best of our athletes and our country”.

Hickey responded to those questions by claiming he had to “call it as it is” because the OCI had become the “whipping boys” for the ISC. He said a meeting had been held with the Minister two or three months ago and it was put to him he had to bring the ISC and OCI together, and that “he must stop them (the ISC) interfering in our programmes”.

“The way forward is to have a member of the OCI on the ISC,” added Hickey, “and that way we’ll have continued rapport between the two bodies.”

Olympic torch

THE OLYMPIC torch relay for the 2012 London Olympics will take a specially-agreed route from Belfast to Dublin, under an agreement between the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), writes Ian O’Riordan.

After the series of political protests which marred the Olympic torch relay ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the IOC decided the route would be limited to the host country, in this case Britain – but because the OCI are an all-Ireland body, representing the 32 counties, including Northern Ireland, it was agreed the relay would come to Belfast and on to Dublin as a special gesture.