Sarah Keane surprised by Hickey invitation to attend European Games

GREEN LEADER: Three-time Olympian Chloe Magee was yesterday announced as the Irish flag-bearer for the opening ceremony at next month’s European Games in Belarus. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Olympic Federation of Ireland President Sarah Keane is “surprised” Pat Hickey received an invitation to attend next month’s European Games in Belarus. Hickey was invited as a guest of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) despite being self- suspended from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the wake of his arrest in Rio in 2016.

Keane was told informally about Hickey’s invitation and last week she and OFI honorary general secretary Sarah O’Shea held talks with EOC president Janez Kocijancic to address the decision.

“We expressed our surprise and they were open and honest about it,” said Keane. “He has assured me this is standard practice in terms of inviting former presidents to events.”

Hickey was EOC President for 10 years and Olympic Council of Ireland President for 29 years prior to his arrest in Rio and continues to claim innocence. His trial in Brazil has been suspended and Keane said the OFI has been given no indication when, or if, it will take place. A decision about Hickey’s future in the Olympic movement has yet to be made by the IOC Ethics Commission.

“We would have expected [they] would have ruled in some shape or form prior to any engagement [by Hickey] in the movement,” said Keane, who reiterated that Hickey has had no involvement with the OFI since stepping aside as the then-OCI President in 2016.

However, she said the matter will be discussed at their AGM on Thursday. Hickey will have no involvement with the Irish team in Minsk and will travel as a guest of the EOC.

“He would have been heavily involved in the creation of the European Games so there is an affinity which [the EOC] value very highly,” said Keane.

Keane will travel to Minsk for the opening two days of the event but will then return home, having chosen to share an accreditation with OFI chief executive Peter Sherrard to accommodate extra support staff. The second edition of the European Games begins on June 21, with 64 Irish athletes in action across nine sports — amateur boxer Joseph Ward is a late withdrawal after turning professional this week.

In Abbotstown yesterday three-time Olympian Chloe Magee was announced as the Irish flag-bearer for the opening ceremony. A bronze medallist at the last edition of the European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, the Donegal woman will compete alongside brother Sam in the badminton mixed doubles.

The Games will feature 4,000 athletes from 50 countries who will compete across 200 events. Ireland will field teams in archery, athletics, badminton, boxing, canoe sprint, cycling, gymnastics, judo, and shooting.

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