JOHN MCHENRY: Can Ireland drive change in the IOC?

Athletes have been let down by the IOC, writes John McHenry.

Over the past week and a half, I have been very fortunate, as an RTÉ analyst, to share the room with other sporting legends also commenting on the Olympic Games. 

It has been a rich experience, full of opinions and analysis, but while the conversation inevitably starts with the individual performance of an Irish athlete it most often finishes up as a cynical discussion about how many of the sporting organisations and particularly the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are failing their athletes.

Having “been there and done all of that before” this group is naturally well-informed but such is their passion for an Irish squad of talented sports men and women, who have made so many sacrifices in order to realise their Olympic dream, it is understandable they also have a “zero tolerance” for the Olympic world of “fudge” - one that seems to have a disrespectful lack of interest in the welfare of its athletes. For those of us who are honest enough to admit it, the Rio Olympics has already exposed a total myriad of unacceptable organisational failings, from systematic doping and ticketing scandals to morally “corrupt” decisions in the boxing ring where it was claimed with some justification by Michael Conlan on Tuesday the level of influence rather than his performance was what counted most.

Can anyone reasonably explain to me as to why the vast majority of honest athletes — who are screaming in frustration and competing for free this week — have to tolerate this type of unacceptable behaviour while an IOC motivated by greed, generates billions in revenues for their bloated administrators from broadcasting rights and sponsors?

The IOC, by not supporting the recommendations from WADA to ban Russian athletes from competing in Rio, stands accused of being more motivated by political and commercial factors resulting in it once again letting down it biggest asset — the goodwill of its athletes. Time and time, the IOC has shown it doesn’t reward whistle-blowers - yet it has the nerve to proclaim athletes are at the heart of what it stands for. Just last week I was in studio to witness Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana annihilating the 10,000m women’s world record and I just knew from Sonia O’Sullivan’s body language that there was something amiss.

For someone who was herself a victim of numerous bogus results, determined by other dopers in the field, it was enlivening to see her being so honest. She questioned the performance and the margin of victory and why after such an astounding feat the athlete didn’t appear to be tired or emotional? Surely others in the IOC witnessing the feat must have thought the same? If so, why then is the silence so deafening. Big sponsors associated with the Olympics must also take far more responsibility for cleaning up the IOC. It’s simply not good enough they are conveniently allowed to fall behind tag lines like the IOC “can’t control” all of its members who are spread throughout the world.

By spending many, many millions of euros on sponsorship, they have both the right and the responsibility to demand that their efforts towards supporting teams - which in turn enable a great fan experience - are celebrated in the spirit of clean competition and personal achievement.

There needs to be more consistency.

On Tuesday we witnessed both sides of the Olympic coin, in Michael Conlan and Annalise Murphy. Conlan’s angry outburst at the end of his boxing eliminator reflected all that is wrong in that the blatantly flawed decision destroyed the dreams and aspirations of an honest Olympian. Sanctions for the referees are of no use to him now. His tournament is over. His bubble has been unfairly burst and he now leaves the sport disillusioned.

On the flip side, Annalise Murphy was able to control her own destiny on the water, performing in a manner that suggests she has a bright future ahead. It is obvious she has learned from her experience in London 2012, looking as composed in adversity as in triumph, earlier in the week but even she would be glad she didn’t have to rely on anyone other than herself to win her medal.

For everyone’s sake, the bizarre developments yesterday of Pat Hickey’s arrest demands the embattled Sports Minister Shane Ross does everything within his power to ensure the Olympic Council Of Ireland (OCI) is independently and forensically investigated. As a beneficiary of state funding, this is not a time for prevarication on the matter.

In fact, Ireland should now take the lead in driving change within the IOC. It the very least that we can do for our athletes who still view Olympic participation as being the highlight of their careers.


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