In nod to the past, Sarah Keane wiped the floor with her rivals
New OCI president promise of sweeping changes sees her win 29 of 43 votes cast
New OCI president Sarah Keane is congratulated by board member Sonia O’Sullivan at the Conrad Hotel. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Traditionally these affairs have been like a night of the long knives. Men in dark suits lugubriously shaking hands before the rapiers appear and the heads are counted or cut off and with outgoing president Pat Hickey coming out smiling.
But the plush surrounds of the Conrad Hotel and the promise of blood on the carpet drew in 34 national federations and the biggest media attendance ever to attend an Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) election.
Forty four names sought media accreditation, more than were accredited by the OCI for the Rio Olympic Games, all of them giddy with the anticipation of regime change after 28 years.
In previous OCI elections, the chairs and people in them had remained firmly welded to the floor, an unchanging landscape of control and position, the election a celebration of its former president, who had created an Irish Olympic organisation in his own image.
O’Byrne, an Olympic outsider, looked up from the floor at Keane at the top table, Willie O’Brien to her right, all of them knowing that in the past good intentions and even election manifestos that were accompanied by a pledge of millions in sponsorship had never quite been enough.
But last night it was as Keane who wiped the floor just as Hickey had done in previous years.
In her 29 of the 43 votes cast she won a vote for better governance, for the Deloitte Report which excoriated the OCI, for athletes families to no longer have to buy tickets from Denmark to see their sons and daughters compete.
Skewered by Joanne Cantwell in an RTÉ interview last weekend, presidential candidate O’Brien from archery, arrived the most metaphorically wounded. But it was OCI secretary Dermot Henihan, who kick started the real bun fight and in his address to the federations spoke of €800,000 spent on reports and public relations. That, he said was overseen by the Crisis Management Committee. First blow landed on Keane.
“I looked for information and still am absent of minutes and attendance lists,” said Mr Henihan.
A Hickey loyalist, his long, long tribute to Mr Hickey was Olympic in its breadth and Wagnerian in scale, longer than his report on silver medallists Annalise Murphy and the Donovan brothers, walker Rob Heffernan or the Rio ticketing scandal. It was man crush material.
“As far as I am concerned he was always been a great part of the OCI,” said Mr Henihan. “When Pat started out they were working off the kitchen tables and going to people’s houses for meetings.”
Well, kitchen tables or the Shelbourne Hotel. Henihan’s ode to Pat was greeted with sporadic clapping. Had a photographer taken a picture at the precise moment of the entire room, we would have known before a vote was cast just how the federations were breaking.
But for the first time the federations ignored the froth and the enthusiastic back slapping and remembered the events of last summer and when Keane’s name was read out with 29 votes, it was met with the warmest applause of the evening.
A mother of three will head the Irish Olympic movement for the next four years and, along with her place as the CEO of Irish swimming, has become the most powerful woman in Irish sport.
“I am very happy,” said Keane in a brief reaction to her win. “I am here to serve.”
With that she sat down. A new era was ushered in. All has changed in the sea front offices out in Howth.