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Monday, July 16, 2012
Olympic Council of Ireland President Pat Hickey has defended the policy of government ministers attending the Olympics.
Hickey insisted the Taoiseach, President and high ranking Government officials have a significant role to play at the London Games and deemed criticism of such trips "ridiculous".
The OCI chief claimed that Taoiseach Enda Kenny was travelling for only one night, as he was fearful of the media reaction if he stayed longer.
Hickey said: "There is a thing in the media — ‘why should the Ministers and so on go to the London Olympics; why should they be on a junket?’
"We don’t look at it that way. We see it that these officials are flying the flag for Ireland and the first person that has to be there is the sports minister. He is living with the team with four years. The President of the country attending is very important. And so too is the Taoiseach.
"President Michael D Higgins is coming in for the Opening Ceremony and is only staying for one night. The Taoiseach is coming in for one night at the end for the Closing Ceremony. My understanding is that he would love to stay longer but is afraid of the media reaction.
"But I think that is ridiculous.
"He is the Taoiseach of our country and our next-door neighbour is our biggest ally in so many ways now.
"He (The Taoiseach) should be flying the flag at the games. We should be proud to have him there.
"People like ministers, Michael Ring, Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach and the President all have vital roles to play by attending the Games.
"Every other country has their ministers and their presidents and their prime ministers attending. So should we."
Hickey said the OCI would consider picking up some of the tab if required: "We are prepared to accommodate the ministers out of our sponsorship monies. The money we get from the Sports Council goes directly to athletes and we don’t use that for anything else. Our sponsorship can go to other activities and promotions."
Hickey also claimed Ireland "dropped the ball" in terms of providing facilities for international teams seeking training bases close to the English capital.
When the Olympic Games were awarded to London in 2005, expectations were high that Ireland would be a prime location for competitors wishing to finalise their preparations, given the climate and closeness to the Games venues.
However such optimism proved unfounded.
Hickey explained: "We did (drop the ball). Where we lost out badly was the development in Abbotstown. I don’t mean the Bertie Bowl. I mean the sports campus. I thought starting off that it would be a legacy and that once and for all we would have a sports facility in Ireland second to none. We still don’t have it because the plug was pulled.
"Abbotstown is still alive but it is in intensive care. I hope it continues as it is a great project. That was started in the Celtic Tiger days. But then we got into all this internal squabbling about should it be the Bertie Bowl, should it be this, should it be that.
"And once again we don’t have one centre of excellence."
Hickey revealed that the Olympic Council of Ireland had received contacts from numerous international delegations seeking to set up training camps here in the past two years. But the hard work counted for nought.
"We did, we helped out. The reality was when they saw our facilities, they said ‘thanks but no thanks’. They came but said ‘we enjoyed the few pints but we were offered better facilities in the UK in Birmingham and Manchester.’
"And they we are getting paid to go there. Teams were getting £30,000 to locate in the UK.
"The city of Manchester or Birmingham would have better facilities than the whole of Ireland combined."
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