Rio Olympic games overshadowed by scandal

The Rio Olympics are now over, yet it continues to be front-page news.

Despite an impressive display from some of our Irish athletes, picking up silver medals in the rowing and sailing and personal bests for many, the coverage of Ireland’s effort has been dominated by developments off the track and field.

First we had the Michael O’Reilly doping scandal, and then the ticket-touting scandal, which has seen two Irishmen, including Olympic Council of Ireland president, Pat Hickey, jailed.

The negative has overtaken what should have been an extremely positive tournament for Irish sports, and the pinnacle of many athletes’ careers.

Personal bests aside, the Games have been somewhat disappointing from a medals point of view and we must ask why we won so few medals, when New Zealand, which has a smaller population, managed to win four gold, nine silver, and five bronze medals?

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Rio Olympic games overshadowed by scandal

We now have an OCI which is in transition and hopefully it is on the road to a position where athletes are properly supported and guided.

Politically, throughout the Olympics, there have been two streams running alongside each other.

Firstly, the investigation into the ticket touting, the ensuing arrest of Hickey, and the recent developments around John Delaney, the chief executive of the FAI; and secondly the political story of Sports Minister Shane Ross and how he has dealt with it (or failed to).

Without question, Ross, like all politicians who have found themselves in these sort of positions, had thought: Will I benefit from being involved in this space, or worse, will it negatively impact me if I’m not?

Either outcome, the inevitable happens: Things very quickly become blurred, overly complicated, and the bigger picture is almost completely lost — in this case the athletes and their success.

Rio Olympic games overshadowed by scandal

In the wake of the Hickey arrest, Ross suddenly found himself in Rio with things quickly spiralling.

While his dealings with the OCI did not go the way he wanted, even he couldn’t have predicted the arrest of Hickey.

Back in control of the story, Ross returned to Ireland to set out his view of how things should proceed.

Yes, thanks largely to factors outside of his control, Ross has been afforded an opportunity to get ahead of the story and help write its ending. And he has done so successfully.

The OCI, previously indignant of the Rio authorities and to the media, firmly stating that it was standing by its man and how the minister was to be put back in his place, is now promising to co-operate fully with the State’s inquiry.

It has gone even further by announcing it will be conducting its own internal investigation and has established a mini-crisis team to spearhead its response.

Rio Olympic games overshadowed by scandal

All the while, our athletes, coaches, families, and supporters have been lost in the story. Their hard work and efforts, how they have behaved throughout the tournament, and their achievements, have been sidelined to minority stories given the turmoil off the track.

This ticket saga is another case of how politics and sport can be a dangerous mix and while they are screaming foul now, the politicians will soon be distracted by the next pressing issue. Most agree it will be Budget 2017.

Despite the extended summer recess, and with the budget so close, the Government will welcome this distraction from its own challenges.

Predicting what is likely to come from the budget, challenges the Government is facing, all the things it should be doing or promised to do will now be replaced with a national sporting scandal.

With the unusual setup of this minority Government and questions around whether it can successfully pass a budget, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his ministers will hope the Hickey ticket scandal becomes a welcome distraction while the tough budget negotiations are taking place.

But the Government can use this sporting crisis and the upcoming budget as the means to examine our approach to the Olympic Games.

We will be entering a new cycle of funding ahead of the next Olympic Games and clearly the lessons of the Rio Games must be learned.

It is worthy of thought.

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