Hickey slams ‘cheque book politics’

THE leading Olympic official in the country has launched a stinging attack on the Irish Sports Council’s High Performance Unit which, he claims, has failed in its brief to produce results at the Games despite record levels of funding.

Pat Hickey, the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, claimed it was “embarrassing” to witness what he described as the limited amount of progress made by the ISC in developing systems and structures to support national federations over 14 years.

“Performance planning has been fiscal-led rather than performance-driven and the overall Beijing performance, despite the boxing medals, was just not good enough given the €34m public investment in the ISC’s High Performance programme in the Beijing Olympiad period.”

Hickey went on to say that Ireland’s performance in China had left the team bottom of an Olympic medal table with seven other ‘comparator’ nations, countries that are similar in terms of size, resources etc.

His comments in an address to a Dáil committee have been described as “disappointing” by a spokesman for the Sports Council who rejected “in general” the wide sweep of accusations made by Hickey against what can safely be termed as the ‘rival’ body.

The deteriorating relationship between the ISC and OCI, whose dealings had been civil enough between 2001 and 2007, was evident when both bodies commissioned reports into the Irish performance in China, something Hickey defended yet again.

“The (OCI’s) Genesis Review confirms that there is undoubtedly a clear lack of performance leadership, knowledge and ambition in the ISC’s High Performance Unit. The question must be asked: is the Sports Council’s High Performance Unit up to the job?

“We call on the Minister for Sport to form a special London 2012 Olympic Performance Task Force. It’s objective is to transfer performance funding and service budgets over to the Irish Institute of Sport and the Olympic Council of Ireland so that they utilise the experience and talent within both organisations.”

Hickey denied this was a call to scrap the ISC, merely advocating that the ISC discontinue what he described as “control freak methods” and allow the OCI a greater say in such matters.

“Genesis represents a wake-up call for both the ISC and the OCI to work in trusted partnership together for the national sporting good,” he added. “The OCI continues to be excluded from the High Performance planning for 2012, even though we have extensive experience in the implementation of worlds class systems.”

The OCI president’s comments was just the latest manoeuvre in a 14-year long arm-wrestle for control of the Irish Olympic movement. Hickey also accused the ISC of attempting to monopolise Irish sporting federations by employing “bully boy” tactics.

“It is not short of trying to subsume Ireland’s Olympic national federations, even the OCI itself, as it tried to do, unsuccessfully, in 1996. The ISC clearly believes in, and uses, cheque book politics and has no respect for the autonomy of the federations.

“They also now extend their mantra to include ‘let us embed our nominees into your organisation if you want your grants; you must use our publicity machine; we know what’s best for your sport, let us subsume you’.

“All of this is done in the guise of protecting the public purse. It is no wonder the Olympic sports scene is filled with tension when you mention the (ISC’s) name. The job of the (ISC) is to enable sports organisations to do their job not to take them over.

“Rather than develop proper and harmonious relationships, the Sports Council want to ‘own’ the Olympic federations and ‘own’ the athletes. When the federations oppose their interference they withdraw legitimate public funding, as has happened in the Athletics Ireland fiasco.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Michael Ring remarked on how a failed drug test by a member of the Irish equestrian team had “disgraced” the country for a second Olympics.

Hickey’s reply was that he “went apoplectic” on radio at the time. Ireland “has been made fools of to the world to be caught a second time,” he added.

“You have no idea what international federations think of Irish equestrianism. They are down a slippery slope. We will look at what the new body (Horse Sport Ireland) have come up with before we even think of sending a team to London.”


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