THE simmering row that has scarred relations between two of Irish sport’s most important bodies blazed back to life yesterday when Pat Hickey launched an astonishing broadside at the Irish Sports Council (ISC).
The Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) president was addressing an Oireachtas joint committee on sport when he delivered a statement that was described as “explosive” by Senator Jerry Buttimer and a “broadside” by Deputy Mary Upton.
Committee chairman Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher said that he had been “taken aback” by it and he had even felt the need to interrupt Hickey’s statement to remind him that he was not speaking under parliamentary privilege.
Hickey delivered a plethora of accusations and admonishments in the ISC’s direction, the chief one being that the body has underachieved in its High Performance remit since its inception 14 years ago. The performance of the Irish Olympic team at Beijing, despite the boxers’ three medals, was simply not an acceptable return for the €34m investment, according to Hickey and OCI chief executive Stephen Martin.
That was followed by a claim that the Sports Council had “no respect” for Ireland’s national federations which it was attempting to subsume through cheque book politics. The OCI, said Hickey, had been targeted in just such a way in 1996.
Also on the agenda was the current dispute between the ISC and Athletics Ireland which has seen the latter’s core funding withheld by the ISC.
“This has cost Athletics Ireland and the coffers of the ISC over €100,000 in legal fees to date,” said Hickey. “It has split the Association in two. It has led to staff leaving and staff out on sick leave.
“Crucially, it is having a negative impact on preparations of their athletes for World and Olympic competition, especially London 2012.”
Deputy Olivia Mitchell said that the question of autonomy for individual sports bodies was a “valid” one.
The ISC said they were “very disappointed but not surprised”.
Spokesman Paul McDermott pointed out that they too had appeared before the joint committee, last month and accepted that relations between the two bodies were not good but that Hickey’s “use of language was disappointing”.
This is the latest acrimonious chapter between two bodies jostling for primacy in Ireland’s Olympic movement and a number of deputies proposed that Minister Martin Cullen be asked to call the two warring parties together.
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