Olympic Council of Ireland -vs- Irish Sports Council

From the Times last week:

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”.

There’s more in the Irish Examiner here and here:

OCI chief Hickey launches ‘explosive’ attack on Sports Council

…Hickey delivered a plethora of accusations and admonishments in the ISC’s direction, the chief one being that the body has underachieved in its High Performance remit since its inception 14 years ago. The performance of the Irish Olympic team at Beijing, despite the boxers’ three medals, was simply not an acceptable return for the €34m investment, according to Hickey and OCI chief executive Stephen Martin.

That was followed by a claim that the Sports Council had “no respect” for Ireland’s national federations which it was attempting to subsume through cheque book politics. The OCI, said Hickey, had been targeted in just such a way in 1996.

Also on the agenda was the current dispute between the ISC and Athletics Ireland which has seen the latter’s core funding withheld by the ISC.

“This has cost Athletics Ireland and the coffers of the ISC over €100,000 in legal fees to date,” said Hickey. “It has split the Association in two. It has led to staff leaving and staff out on sick leave.

“Crucially, it is having a negative impact on preparations of their athletes for World and Olympic competition, especially London 2012.”

Deputy Olivia Mitchell said that the question of autonomy for individual sports bodies was a “valid” one.

The ISC said they were “very disappointed but not surprised”.


Hickey slams ‘cheque book politics’
…Pat Hickey, the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, claimed it was “embarrassing” to witness what he described as the limited amount of progress made by the ISC in developing systems and structures to support national federations over 14 years.

“Performance planning has been fiscal-led rather than performance-driven and the overall Beijing performance, despite the boxing medals, was just not good enough given the €34m public investment in the ISC’s High Performance programme in the Beijing Olympiad period.”

His comments in an address to a Dáil committee have been described as “disappointing” by a spokesman for the Sports Council who rejected “in general” the wide sweep of accusations made by Hickey against what can safely be termed as the ‘rival’ body.

Hickey denied this was a call to scrap the ISC, merely advocating that the ISC discontinue what he described as “control freak methods” and allow the OCI a greater say in such matters.

“Genesis represents a wake-up call for both the ISC and the OCI to work in trusted partnership together for the national sporting good,” he added. “The OCI continues to be excluded from the High Performance planning for 2012, even though we have extensive experience in the implementation of worlds class systems.”

And from the Irish Independent:

Athletics: Mystery over war of words between Hickey and Treacy

So what’s all this brouhaha between Pat Hickey of the OCI and the more taciturn John Treacy, who seems to be riveting his eyes on a spot on the wall and saying nothing.

Before the recent session with the parliamentary committee on sport, Hickey demonstrated his well-known ability to articulate.

Inter-alia, he said that “John Treacy says his door is open — but is there anybody inside the door?”

The assembled TDs were gobsmacked. Deputy Olivia Mitchell pleaded guilty to being among the gobsmacked, but she admitted she found Hickey’s contribution “welcomely honest.”

So, there you are, but what is it all about?

Pat Hickey is one of the most powerful Olympic officials. Apart from his Irish role, he is also president of the European Olympic Committee which consists of 49 countries. But he doesn’t think much of the ISC, of which he says: “It is 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.”

John Treacy won the silver medal in the marathon in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and was also twice world champion in the international cross-country championships.

His role as chief of the Sports Council is a Government appointment and he tends to be about as voluble in communication with the great wide world as an official from the Dept of Finance. So, in a debate, Pat Hickey is a marathon ahead.

In the past the OCI and Hickey had their difficulties with the Irish Athletics body, but all that seems to have been resolved. Remember the Atlanta trouble with the official sports uniforms, a battle between the official sponsors and the athletics sponsors, with Hickey and Chris Wall, the BLE international secretary, locking horns and with Sonia 0’Sullivan forced to change her rig-out in a tunnel leading to the track.

Chris Wall is, of course, no longer an athletics official. His role now is membership of the so-called ‘Drumcondra Mafia’ and Chris is one of Bertie’s most noted loyalists.

The fact is that there has always been difficulties with athletics and the Olympic Council. It was, as Brendan Behan put it, a start put to the agenda with a split. After the war, the London Olympics in 1948 saw two Irish teams competing, the All-Ireland side with Olympic officials, Garda Chief Paddy Carroll and John Chisholm, wholeheartedly anti-partitionist and even Ronnie Delany’s victory in Melbourne resulted in a cool reception home in some quarters.

However, matters in that direction have long passed and politics of that kind are absent nowadays. Current difficulties are concerned with the state of Irish Olympic sport and claims of neglect.

As for national sports bodies and a tete-a-tete between the OCI and the ISC, as the young kid said about the Trinity, it remains a ‘mystery.’

The story in the Times on Saturday was a bit more coherent:

Like him or loathe him, Irish sport needs Hickey

ATHLETICS: The politics of sport is sometimes more political than the politics of politics and no one knows this better than Pat Hickey

FOR A man in danger of being eaten alive by a pack of ravenous politicians, Pat Hickey was incredibly relaxed arriving at Leinster House on Wednesday. At least a lot more relaxed than I was.

Sportswriters have no place inside the corruptible walls of Government Buildings. That’s why I was wearing beige chinos and a purple polka-dot tank top. But the security man had other ideas and just as we were summoned into Committee Room Four wanted to know “where was my jacket and tie?” This was another way of saying “forget about coming in here dressed like that, buddy”.

I was about to tell him my polka-dot tank top was far more respectable than his tweedy suit when Pat came between us carrying his shiny new black jacket. “Will that not do him?” asked Pat – who is always known to lend a helping hand. “Suppose so,” said the security man – realising Pat wasn’t a man to be argued with. Not that he had any choice. There was no way of turning Pat Hickey away, not with the Oireachtas Committee on Sport waiting to get their teeth stuck into him. So we were led inside and took our seats.

Not everybody would be comfortable wearing Pat Hickey’s jacket. At least not until having a ballistics expert check the pockets. But I knew Pat had his own interests in mind as much as mine. He had some damning words for the Oireachtas Committee and wanted to make sure every one of them went on the record – preferably in the paper of record itself.

I also knew the same hand that had presented me with the jacket could the next day present me with a dagger, which in true political spirit Pat would quickly stab me with – in the front, not the back. That’s the way he operates. Pat once told me he liked what I wrote about Irish athletes – and a while later told me I better be careful what I wrote about Irish athletes, if I wanted to go to the next Olympics.

No wonder some people have a hard time believing in Pat Hickey. They say he is a more divisive than uniting when it comes to anything Olympic-orientated. What they usually forget is he didn’t become president of the Olympic Council of Ireland without mastering the political manoeuvring that is part of the Olympics. Truth is Ireland has never had a more powerful or authoritative voice in the Olympic movement, at least not since Lord Killanin was running the show. And like all things political, that becomes an addiction – a strong, cruel habit, not easily broken. Anything or anybody could be sacrificed to feed that addiction.

The difference is that unlike so many politicians Pat knows exactly what he’s talking about. We were chatting outside the committee room and I asked him what he thought about the campaign for the 2016 Olympics.

This has been in the news for a couple of reasons. A year ago, four cities made the final shortlist of candidates to host the 2016 Olympics: Tokyo, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Chicago. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Evaluation Commission has been carrying out a technical appraisal of those cities – ignoring all bribes, naturally – and will prepare a report on the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate to go before the IOC Congress in Copenhagen on October 2nd.

As the world sinks into the Great Depression II, the idea of any government leader announcing €20 billion on a two-week sporting festival would probably result in assassination threats – unless his name is Barack Obama.

“That’s exactly what’s going to happen,” Pat told me. “The three other cities all have fantastic bids. The Tokyo bid is superb, probably the best of all. Madrid has most of the Olympic infrastructure in place, a great transport system as well. Rio has a big advantage too in that the Olympics have never gone to a South American city, and it’s probably about time they did. But Barack Obama is going to show up in Copenhagen in October. He’ll work the room for about 20 minutes and that will probably be enough to swing it for Chicago. The same as Tony Blair swung it for London.

“And could you imagine Gay Mitchell talking about Dublin hosting the Olympics now?”

And that sums it up really – that the politics of sport is sometimes more political than the politics of politics, and no one knows this better than Pat Hickey. Never was it more evident than when he sat before the Oireachtas Committee on Wednesday – the vague purpose of which appeared to be the chance for them to express their concern for all causes in receipt of public funding; in this case, Ireland’s Olympic cause.

Pat slaughtered them before they got in a bite. By the time they’d recovered from his vicious attack on the Irish Sports Council – during which chairman Pat “the Cope” Gallagher reminded him he didn’t benefit from parliamentary privilege – there was really nothing left to say except “why can’t we all just get along?” “We can,” said Pat – who told them he had no personality issues with John Treacy, the chief executive of the ISC. “Sure I only had coffee with him the other morning. And every time I go to Lansdowne Road I sit beside him.”

There wasn’t a single Olympic issue where he didn’t run five rings around them. Deputy John O’Mahony seemed to be bemused as much as amused at how he so confidently deflected anything even mildly critical of the Olympic Council of Ireland.

They say the first two rules of journalism are deny everything; and never admit you’re wrong – but I’ve never seen anyone work those two rules better than Pat Hickey did on Wednesday. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t argue with his experience, influence or his political skills.

He will always say what others are afraid to say, and virtually nobody has escaped his wrath, but when it comes to a country the size of Ireland, we can’t ignore Pat Hickey. His case for having some say in the running of Irish sport in the four years between the Olympics can’t be ignored either – not when Irish athletics, for one, has been allowed make such a mess of itself just three years out from the London Olympics.

And here’s the actual transcript of the session. This is the opening statement:

I turn to some other observations. We were disappointed but not surprised by the condescending attitude the chief executive of the Irish Sports Council showed towards the OCI and the Genesis review at the recent joint committee hearing. To be perfectly frank, it is embarrassing to witness the limited progress the Irish Sports Council has made in the past 14 years in developing systems and structures to support our national federations. Performance planning has been fiscal led rather than performance driven and the overall Beijing performance, despite the boxing medals, was just not good enough, given the €34 million public investment in the Irish Sports Council’s high performance programme in the Beijing Olympiad period. The Genesis review confirmed there was undoubtedly a clear lack of performance leadership, knowledge and ambition in the ISC’s high performance unit. It is disappointing to note that we are at the bottom of seven comparator nations in Olympic performance. The question has to be asked: is the Irish Sports Council’s high performance unit up to the job?

The Irish Sports Council is a quango which is prepared to bask in the glory of Ireland’s brilliant rugby Grand Slam, even though its contribution was minimal. It is essentially a conduit for taxpayers’ money. At the same time, it is not short of trying to subsume Ireland’s Olympic national federations and even the OCI itself, as it tried to do – unsuccessfully – in 1996. The Irish Sports Council clearly believes in and uses cheque book politics and has no respect for the autonomy of the federations. It also extends its mantra to include, “Let us embed our nominees in your organisation if you want your grant. You must use our publicity machine. We know what is best for your sport. Let us subsume you.” All this is done in the guise of protecting the public purse. No wonder the Olympic sports scene is filled with tension when the Irish Sports Council is mentioned. Its job is to enable sports organisations to do their job, not to take them over.

Rather than develop proper and harmonious relationships, the ISC wants to own the Olympic federations and the athletes. When federations oppose its interference, it withdraws legitimate public funding, as happened in the Athletics Ireland fiasco. To date, this has cost Athletics Ireland and the ISC’s coffers more than €100,000 in legal fees. It has split the association in two and led to staff leaving and staff being out on sick leave. Crucially, it is having a negative impact on the athletes’ preparations for world and Olympic competitions, especially London 2012.

It has to be said, Hickey has some very strong points here. Certainly the ISC has always treated the NTSA over the past decade as though the NTSA was a supplicant. We’ve heard continually from the ISC that the ISC does not wish to ‘meddle in the internal affairs of a sport’ but the simple fact is that they do, on a near-daily basis. The NRPAI (now SSAI) was formed purely on the say-so of the ISC because the ISC wanted a single contact point for ‘the sport’, but we are not one sport anymore than GAA and soccer and rugby are one sport. There are similarities to the outside (and frankly, uninterested and unobservant) eye, but those similarities do not survive the first three minutes of actual examination. I have personally lost count of the number of arguments caused, shooters lost to the sport, initiatives destroyed and half-assed scams pulled as a result of that one single instance of meddling on the part of the ISC. It has set our shooting sports back even further than the worst excesses of the Department of Justice over the years.

At present, the NTSA has withdrawn from the SSAI. It did so for several reasons, it was the right thing to do (and frankly had been the right thing to do for nearly a decade), and it had to be done and I applaud those who took the decision for having the courage to do so. This was a decision reached by consensus, by the properly elected representatives of those in our sport, and was done by the book and without malice or ill-feeling from or towards any party. All involved understood the issues, all involved agreed with the action (with perhaps one or two exceptions, who frankly, no longer play an active role in administration in our sport and have become rather widely-known amongst those who do as being the very exemplars of the phrase “undesireable elements”).

Nonetheless, the ISC refuses to accept this valid decision and extend independent recognition to the NTSA at this time. Even the very criteria for that recognition are said to be under review, a review with no end date specified, and the ISC’s position is that all of this problem (and all of the other problems in the sport which have at their root the ISC’s forcing all shooting NGBs into the NRPAI) is merely “noise in the system” which should go away at the ISC’s earliest convienence.

Frankly, this attitude that the sporting NGBs are in some way supplicants to the ISC must end. It’s not as if the ISC’s support is sufficient to our sport – the average cost to set up an NTSA shooter with equipment is approximately €7,000 and that’s just for one single discipline (50m smallbore rifle). Granted, new shooters can get started for a lot less (the lowest would be about €250 for an entry-level air pistol shooter), but that’s not the demographic that the ISC is interested in funding, nor is it where the carding grants and so forth are directed. Top-of-the-field performance is what the ISC is interested in and those folks shoot with top-of-the-line kit which costs top-of-the-line prices.

And we’re not even the most expensive discipline – F-class shooters will easily spend €7,000 euro on just the rifle and scope, and their top shooters have to rebarrel mid-way through a competitive season, which is another few thousand on top of that.

And all of this is just capital spending, it says nothing of the actual running costs when you’re competing internationally. Travelling to matches (and if you’re serious you’re talking about four to eight per year) all over europe and further afield sometimes, at a bare minimum of €1500 per trip, running costs in terms of ammunition (which has to be batch tested and therefore bought in large batches which in turn requires secure storage and so forth, and introduces lots of fun with your local Garda), targets, membership fees, insurance, and so on and so forth.

What was the total grant to the entire NRPAI at the height of the ISC’s funding during the boom? About €30,000. For all shooting sports. It works out at a little less than €2 per shooter, in case you were wondering, and yes, we do in fact pay €39 each to the exchequer each year in licence fees (per firearm – most NTSA shooters have more than one) alone. So per-shooter it’s a pittance. Relative to other sports it’s a pittance (we get less funding than any other olympic sport and damn near less than every other sport, full stop). Compared to what we pay the government through our sport it’s a pittance. But somehow, we should be so grateful for it that we mangle our sport completely, at least in the ISC’s eyes.

Pat Hickey is right. The ISC needs to sit down and look hard at itself and ask some very, very tough questions.

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