OCI still hopeful for Irish Olympic bobsleigh duo

OLYMPIC Council of Ireland chiefs were last night hopeful that the national bobsleigh team will be allowed compete at the Winter Games in Vancouver.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) delayed their ruling on whether the Irish selection of Claire Bergin, Aoife Hoey (and alternate brakewoman Leona Byrne) can represent Ireland in the competition, which commences on February 23; or whether they be replaced by an Australian representation; or whether they allow both teams a place in the finals. A decision was due at 8pm Irish time last night but was delayed for unknown reasons.

The controversial scenario arose after the Australian Olympic Committee instigated an appeal following their failure to secure a place in the competition. They claiming the International Bobsleigh Federation (FIBT) erred in not selecting a team from the Oceania region.

Earlier this year Hoey and Bergin captured the 20th and final spot in qualifying, outperforming their Australian counterparts in the process.

The Austrian team then withdrew from the Games and Ireland jumped to 19th in the rankings, with Japan offered the 20th spot as the top team in Asia.

This caused consternation as Australian officials argued their competitors, who met the Olympic’s minimum qualifying standard, should be offered a similar treatment to Japan as the top country in their region, Oceania.

They argued that the International Olympic Committee’s five-ring symbol represents all continents and that Oceania should have at least one spot in the competition.

However the FIBT didn’t share that view and refused to grant them such a privilege.

All parties met with the CAS on Monday night, with the Irish delegation made up of Olympic Council of Ireland President Pat Hickey, Chef de Mission Siobhan Hoey and OCI legal representative Giles Kennedy.

The controversy cast a cloud over the flag-raising ceremony in the Olympic Village last night and Hickey admitted that it was a difficult time for all concerned in the Irish team.

The Australian bobsleigh athletes Astrid Loch-Wilkinson and Cecilia McIntosh attended the meeting on Monday night and admitted their hope both countries be allowed to compete.

“We think we got a fair hearing and hopefully the decision will go in our favour,” said Loch-Wilkinson.

“It’s been very nerve wracking but we’re quite confident. The argument that we support the most is that we’ll be added as an additional team rather than the Irish team being excluded.

“I made that clear both in my statement and in our (Australian) Olympic Committee’s statement. They are friends of ours and this is an awkward situation to be in,” said the Australian.

“We don’t in any way want to exclude them from the Games.”

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