Olympic achievements not dulled by controversy

Where there’s money and sport, there will continue to be corruption of one form or another, writes Michael Clifford

Olympic achievements not dulled by controversy

Two medals, two arrests, fair to middling Olympics from an Irish point of view. Let’s first look at the medals and what they say about sport and this country.

The O’Donovan brothers Paul and Gary blew through the games like a breath of fresh air with their silver medal success in rowing. They typified so much about sport in its Corinthian incarnation.

They pulled like dogs, reaping in their final race the return for every drop of sweat that they had shed in the months and years before arriving at the games.

Afterwards, their reaction was pure and joyous. What was notable was how eager they were to share the limelight for their success with all the mentors who had aided and abetted them since they first took up their oars. Sport needs heroes like these boys.

As their mother Trish put it: “It seems the world and their mother are happy for them and delighted for them…ah sure they’re stone mad, they’re wild. They were always as wild as could be, they’d find fun in anything.”

Analisse Murphy’s triumph was another bright spot, even if the aftermath never matched the wattage of the O’Donovans. Her backstory is weighted with the disappointment of four years ago. In London she just missed out on a medal and thereafter embarked on a crusade to ensure that she would be on the podium this time around.

One can only imagine the long, lonely hours she spent out on the waves since 2012, all the time a corner of her mind attempting to push out the image of a podium finish, valediction, the sweeping away of the pain of coming so close in London.

And so it came to pass. Another feature of her success was that her father was not present for it, but detained elsewhere in Rio officiating at another sailing competition. Quite obviously, the Murphys are a family wedded to the best aspects of their sport, which involves even the most personal of sacrifices on a momentous day.

What about Oliver Dingley? Most of us had never heard of him before, yet there he was last Tuesday, going toe to toe with the world’s finest divers at the games. For a few hours, a medal hovered into his orbit, and that alone is something to bring home and cherish through the long hours of practice before another tilt.

Is the true character of the Irish as an island race finally coming to the fore through the Olympic games with these performances in rowing, diving and sailing? Perhaps this points to positive omens for entry in the next games of a national beach volleyball team. The only training facility that would be required is a high- powered sunbed.

In track and field, Thomas Barr was heroic, finishing five hundredths of a second outside the medals.

There were other notable performances across golf, swimming and cycling, and in the round it could be said that this was not a bad games at all for the athletes.

Boxing was obviously a disappointment. It is in that sport that the cracks first appear. Certainly, there were decisions that appeared to go against all reason in the various bouts lost by Irish fighters, particularly Michael Conlan. But is it entirely coincidental that the boxers failed to fulfill their potential in the first games after the departure of the renowned coach Billy Walsh?

Not for the first time in Irish sport the debacle over Walsh’s departure shows the difficulty that apparently exists in this country with amateur bodies managing serious athletes. A suspicion remains that Walsh’s departure had as much to do with egos and jockeying for position within the Irish Amateur Boxing Association than anything else. At the time of the controversy it became obvious that efforts to retain Walsh were less than strenuous.

Then we come to the shabby stuff. The arrest of Pat Hickey this week brought to the fore the inflating underbelly of international sports. The alleged ticket touting – for an event that had difficulty in filling many venues – is only the latest manifestation of the corruption of the Corinthian ideals on which the games were based.

And it’s not just the Olympics. In recent years international cycling has been shown to have turned its back for decades on wholesale cheating with the use of drugs. What mattered the sport, or even the health and lives of competitors, when there was so much money at stake.

International football has been dragged through the muck with the revelations of the utter corruption of the game under Sepp Blatter. Money has polluted football on all levels, but the sheer extent of the corruption in FIFA was breathtaking by any standards.

The Olympics was already tarnished by drugs. These days, in track and field particularly, most viewers look on with a sceptical eye. Experience suggests that some of those who won medals, will, at some point, be exposed as cheats.

Then, at these games, we find that things have got even shabbier. Hickey’s arrest is not a dark day for Irish sport, but it is the inevitable consequence of how international sport is run. His prominence is largely attributable to his role in the international movement.

What is interesting about the whole affair is the reaction from both the international and national bodies. The International Olympic Council immediately distanced itself from Hickey, declaring that the issue concerned the national body.

For its part, the Olympic Council of Ireland, through its acting president Willie O’Brien, said it will “defend itself to the hilt” of any charges related to ticket touting.

One might have thought that the imperative in an organisation ostensibly dedicated to sport would be to ensure that the affair is thoroughly investigated and any culprits discovered within the organisation ejected immediately.

Instead, the defensive pose is adopted. How do the three dozen or so sporting organisations which make up the OCI feel about that? These are the bodies which exist at the frontline of what sport is supposed to be about.

There will be an inquiry, and there might be a result, but don’t hold your breath awaiting change.

Where there’s money and sport, there will continue to be corruption of one form or another.

None of that should take from the achievements of our athletes. Their success does not have to be draped in national colours overseen by an organisation that is now mired in scandal.

The athletes have first and foremost done themselves proud. They have done their families and communities proud, and their individual achievements rise above a spectacle that at a corporate level has lost all credibility.

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