OCI in need of political roasting – just don’t expect TDs to turn up heat

Dáil committee’s behaviour during week doesn’t augur well for greater accountability

FAI chief executive John Delaney  had been identified by Pat Hickey as his successor as president of the OCI. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

FAI chief executive John Delaney had been identified by Pat Hickey as his successor as president of the OCI. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

One of the crying shames about the Donald Trump inauguration – and of course there are many – is that Dr Gonzo himself is not around to shine his blowtorch over it all. No one did political roasting better than Hunter S Thompson, particularly when it came to presidential elections, and especially now as all those imitators steal him blind.

In his final offering, Kingdom of Fear, he recognised the American Dream had been reduced to a nightmare, thanks mainly to corporate greed and the fast-emerging “oligarchy” of “pimps and preachers”, who see no need for democracy or fairness or even trees – “except maybe the ones in their own back yard”. And that was before George Bush was elected for a second term.

“It would be easy to say that we owe it all to the Bush family from Texas,” Thompson wrote, “but that would be too simplistic. They are only errand boys for the vengeful, bloodthirsty cartel of Jesus-freaks and super-rich money mongers who have ruled this country for at least the last 20 years, and arguably for the past 200. They take orders well, and they don’t ask too many questions.”

Make America great again? Can’t imagine he’d be impressed by any of that, which may or may not help us understand why Thompson put that gun to his own head at his home in the Rocky Mountains on that cold winter night 12 years ago already.

Can’t imagine he’d have been impressed either by the grilling that was intended for the leaders of our three largest sporting bodies at Wednesday’s meeting with the Joint Committee on Tourism, Transport and Sport. Because instead of doing the grilling, it was our Government representatives who ended up as neatly roasted as the finest Parisian crème brûlée. They may have asked plenty of questions, but were mostly taking orders.

Oligarchy

Indeed none of the questions directed at John Delaney, Philip Browne and Páraic Duffy drew responses that went far beyond “yes, and thank you for asking”. Not because they run their sport like an oligarchy, or anything like that, but because that’s the way the FAI, IRFU and the GAA have been run for at least the last 20 years. One can only hope that our TDs and senators wouldn’t tread as softly on corporate Ireland.

It was a timely reminder nonetheless that the very topic of their meeting – “Sport in Ireland: Challenges, Strategies and Governance” – finds its microcosm in the upcoming presidential election at the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI).

It’s not that long since the entire country was questioning why the OCI weren’t being held accountable to anyone other than themselves, especially when it came to allowing Pat Hickey to remain as OCI president, largely unchallenged, since 1989. He’d won his seventh four-year term in 2014, and had also identified Delaney as his eventual successor, which had also gone largely unchallenged until the Rio police got in the way, and so began the rapid unfolding of their little five-ringed circus.

Touting allegations aside (and we learnt again this week that cash alone doesn’t always buy and sell the best tickets) there was plenty of sound and fury from former athletes and Olympians and other sporting representatives, all damningly adamant the OCI needed to change from the top down. Or indeed the bottom up, whichever came quicker. Revolution was in the air.

Only now, precious few have actually stepped up to bring about that change. Nominations for the new OCI executive committee, including Hickey’s successor as president, were announced on Tuesday, ahead of the egm in Dublin on February 9th. To say it isn’t exactly a stellar cast isn’t being unkind to those who have come forward as much as those who haven’t. There’s not a single Olympic medallist among the 29 nominations, boxer Darren O’Neill the only one with properly hands-on Olympic experience. That doesn’t always make a strong administrator, although in this case it’s a good start.

Experience

The three nominations for the role of OCI president do at least have some considerable administrative experience: acting OCI president Willie O’Brien, who took over last August after Hickey stepped aside, pending the outcome of those ticket-touting charges; Swim Ireland CEO and current OCI executive member Sarah Keane; and Bernard O’Byrne, former CEO of the FAI and currently CEO of Basketball Ireland.

All three outlined their presidential manifesto this week, writing to the 36 sporting federations affiliated to the OCI, asking for their vote, and explaining why they should get it.

O’Brien, on the OCI executive since 1996, says that while “change and new dynamics are important at this time, let us not forget experience, knowledge and contacts are also paramount”; he mostly ditches the recent Deloitte report into governance, claiming they never even visited the OCI offices, while at the same time pledging to “completing revised OCI memorandum and articles”.

Keane, who “after much deliberation”, decided to go forward, also talks about the OCI’s “need to reform its current structure”, and amongst other things, intends on “resurrecting the Athletes Commission as a key contributor to the OCI”. And O’Byrne, who admits he is an “outsider” in the OCI, presents that “as both a strength and asset”, and also reckons O’Brien and Keane “belong to the old guard”.

It’s not much to go on for a future leader of any sporting body, let alone the OCI. There needs to be a proper grilling about where they’re going over the next four years. Otherwise they could end up being the same as at least the last 20, or worse still end up before our TDs and senators.

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