Sarah Keane elected as Olympic Council of Ireland president

Swim Ireland chief executive wins overwhelming majority of vote at EGM

 Sarah Keane is congratulated after being elected as the new president of the Olympic Council of Ireland during their EGM at the Conrad Hotel in Dublin. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Sarah Keane is congratulated after being elected as the new president of the Olympic Council of Ireland during their EGM at the Conrad Hotel in Dublin. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Sarah Keane is the new president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), succeeding Pat Hickey who had owned the position largely unchallenged since 1989.

The result sounded like a last farewell to the status quo and a five-finger salute to the old guard, Keane winning by a large majority, winning 29 of the 43 votes available on the night. A resounding mandate if there ever was one.

An existing member of the OCI for the last two years and currently chief executive of Swim Ireland, Keane comfortably won the three-way vote at a packed EGM at the Conrad Hotel in Dublin, clearly out-voted the two other candidates for the position, acting OCI president Willie O’Brien and Basketball Ireland chief executive Bernard O’Byrne.

Keane was elected with her tally of 29, with O’Brien gaining 12 votes, and O’Byrne just two. There were 43 votes in the room, including the nine existing council members.

Keane, a 42 year-old from Dublin and mother of three, has promised a fresh start and new era of transparency for the OCI, and will lead the new executive committee up to and including the Tokyo 2020 Games.

“I feel humbled and privileged to have been elected as president of the OCI this evening,” she said. “I look forward to working with them – the other newly elected officers and executive committee members – to reform and rebuild the OCI after what has been a very difficult few months for the Olympic movement in Ireland.

“I am committed to working with the new executive committee and staff of the OCI to put in place administration and governance structures that are fit for purpose and best in class, to ensure an athlete-centred approach in respect of all that we do and ultimately, that the OCI plays its part in enhancing the future development of sport in Ireland and represents the country well on the world stage. Some of the required changes will take some time as there are steps that have to be taken in order to facilitate the governance changes.”

So ended a brief election campaign which at times appeared to be toying between a Darwinian evolution or else an Einstein definition of madness: billed as the old guard versus the new.

A night too of minor historical significance, perhaps, for Irish sport, although significantly altering the history of the OCI: for the first time in almost three decades, the OCI has voted for real change, Hickey owning the position largely unchallenged since 1989, winning a record seventh four-year term in 2014. Hickey had indicated that would be his last term, before the Rio Olympic ticket-touting charges last August rubber-stamped that decision as he stepped aside in the immediate aftermath.

The mood of change was further reflected with Colm Barrington, also a newcomer from Irish sailing, voted vice president on a clear majority of 29 votes.

Robert Norwood was elected second vice president, and in another clear vote against the old guard, Sarah O’Shea takes over the key general secretary position, previously held by Dermot Henihan, an OCI member since 1996.

The seven new executive committee members are Denis Toomey (Paralympics), Georgina Drumm (athletics), Lochlann Walsh (triathlon), Robert Johnson (hockey), Ciaran Gallagher (gymnastics), PJ Nolan (cycling) and Darren O’Neill (boxing).

Henihan earlier delivered an astonishing glowing tribute to Hickey, and where he took the OCI, beginning by saying “remember, when Pat started, they were working off the kitchen table and going to members’ houses for meetings”.

He then added: “We now have a beautiful headquarters and a staff of four and a number of really good people who work hard for the Olympic movement” and that “Pat is a loyal and good friend to the OCI, to you, the national federations, and will be sadly missed as the guiding light and president of the OCI.

“In his ongoing career in the IOC and the EOC, I hope and ask Pat to look after the OCI and you the National federations. I believe that his contribution has been immense and should be recognised. I would like to thank Pat on behalf of the Olympic movement in Ireland.”

OCI honorary treasurer Billy Kennedy also outlined some of the hefty costs involved in the fall out of the Rio ticketing controversy. At the end of the London 2012 Games, the OCI has assets of €2,295,994; currently, and mainly to do with legal fees, costing an estimated €628,000, that figure is now €1,535,931, to be carried forward in reserve for Tokyo.

The evening began with Stephen Martin, deputy chef de mission for Rio, delivering his report on the Games due to the resignation of chef de mission Kevin Kilty, also an OCI executive member, who resigned in the aftermath of the ticket-touting scandal.

Martin was extremely critical of the Rio organising committee: “Rio could basically not cope,” he said, “and asked us to find and pay for our own solutions.”

Martin either avoided or gave just mere mentions to the controversial elements to the Games – namely the ticketing controversy, the positive doping test of boxer Michael O’Reilly, and the subsequent illegal betting charges laid against Michael Conlon and Steven Donnelly.

It’s not, however, a complete clear-out: William Kennedy, a member of the OCI executive since 1992, was the sole nomination for honorary treasurer (Nicholas Jermyn, who had also been nominated by his federation, Badminton Ireland, has withdrawn his name from the ballot). Kennedy is now guaranteed the position for the next four years.

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