New era for OCI as Swim Ireland chief Sarah Keane elected president

The Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) has a new president for the first time in 28 years after Swim Ireland’s Sarah Keane was swept in to the position with a vote at the body’s EGM in Dublin’s Conrad Hotel late last night.

Keane was one of three candidates to succeed Pat Hickey who had stepped down last year in the wake of the Rio ticketing controversy.

Of the 43 votes available, she succeeded in attracting 29 at the first attempt.

A strong mandate.

“I am here to serve,” Keane said. “I feel humbled and privileged to have been elected as president of the OCI this evening. I am grateful for the support and confidence shown to me by the Olympic sports federations and I look forward to working with the the other newly elected officers and executive committee members to reform and rebuild the OCI after what has been a very difficult few months for the Olympic movement in Ireland.”

It was a comprehensive victory for the woman who has impressed in her role with Swim Ireland and who has already served for the last two years on the OCI’s executive body. It is already being framed as a badly needed vote for change.

Acting president William O’Brien, a 20-year servant of the organisation and a close ally of Hickey’s down the years, received 12 votes, with Basketball Ireland’s Bernard O’Byrne trailing in last with just two.

First on the agenda last night, after the opening obligatory niceties and technicalities, was a report on the Irish experience at the Rio Olympics by Stephen Martin, the OCI’s CEO and deputy chef de mission in Brazil last year.

Ticketing issues and doping issues were both mentioned but not the names of either Hickey or the boxer Michael O’Reilly as Martin scooted through the panorama of the 2016 Games with the broadest of brushstrokes. Juicier stuff wasn’t long being served.

Outgoing OCI general secretary Dermot Henihan was next at the lectern and the long-serving member quickly opened up old wounds on the costs and procedures involved with the management of the Rio ticketing crisis here at home.

Keane was a member of that crisis committee.

Henihan claimed that decisions were made at an emergency executive committee meeting on August 21 that “in effect cost the OCI in excess of €800,000” and that a number of people “jumped to conclusions resulting in a lot of needless expenditure”.

OCI honorary treasurer Billy Kennedy subsequently confirmed the independent post-Rio review had cost €900,688 and that approximately €90,000 of that sum had been recovered from their insurers AIG.

The absent Hickey’s name was no longer the elephant in the room by then.

Henihan followed up his criticisms of the crisis committee with a heartfelt tribute to the outgoing president, his 28-year reign as well as Hickey’s successes under the international Olympic umbrella.

The OCI’s healthy bank balance of €2.9m was mentioned, so too the HQ in Howth built under his watch, the organisation’s financial support down the years to individual federations and athletes and the introduction of the first European Games in Baku.

Advised by lawyers not to go into detail on the ongoing ticketing controversy, Henihan stated his certainty that Hickey would succeed in clearing “his good name and have the charges against him dismissed” in time to come.

“He is now back in Ireland having recently undergone a cardiac procedure and this is why he is not with you this evening.”

Henihan eventually moved on to other, less divisive, matters but not before thanking Hickey for his ‘immense contribution’ to the Olympic movement, words that were met with applause from many in the room. More again sat in stony silence.

Here was visible proof of an organisation split down the middle. It now falls to Keane to restore the OCI’s damaged reputation and brand and to bring together the two warring factions within its ranks.

An interesting four-year term awaits.


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