DANIEL MCCONNELL: We, the people, deserve answers to Olympics controversies

Shocking, embarrassing, and disappointing. That was sports minister Shane Ross’s response yesterday to the double scandal to engulf Ireland’s Olympic dream in Rio. Who is to blame, asks Daniel McConnell

Speaking to reporters yesterday in Dublin, Mr Ross made it clear he is not happy with the events of the past week in which we have seen an Irish boxer disgraced and our Olympic body engulfed in a ticket-touting scandal.

And he pointed the finger at Olympic Council of Ireland boss Pat Hickey, who he says must now come out and clarify what is going on.

Mr Ross’s junior minister Patrick O’Donovan echoed that call, so it seems inevitable that Mr Hickey and the Olympic council of Ireland (OCI) will have to come out quickly and address the scandal.

However, Mr Ross and Mr O’Donovan also addressed the Michael O’Reilly scandal, which the Irish Examiner broke last Thursday.

Mr Ross said Mr O’Reilly is likely to face sanction on his return to Ireland.

“We condemn all drug taking and we were looking for a clean Olympics. So it is very disappointing for Ireland but we should try and put that behind us. We should look to the boxers winning medals. I think both scandals are embarrassing for Ireland but let’s forget about it and look forward to a medal being won,” he said.

However, following his admission that he had taken a supplement which may have contained a banned substance, Mr O’Reilly got little support from the boxing fraternity. The Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) showed no sympathy for O’Reilly and criticised him for taking a supplement without consulting its medical staff.

“We are very disappointed that Michael may have taken any supplement without consulting the IABA high performance support team. Educating athletes of the risks proposed by supplements is provided to all our boxers as part of the high performance programme,” the IABA said.

While the two scandals are separate embarrassments for Team Ireland, the close proximity of their breaking means there is now no shortage of bodies wanting to investigate what happened.

Mr O’Donovan said he now thinks the Oireachtas Sports Committee should and will investigate the ticket-touting scandal as part of its overall review of the Olympics.

Public Accounts Committee (PAC) member Noel Rock called on the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) to appear before it to answer questions regarding the ongoing Olympic ticket scandal in Rio.

Mr Rock said public have a right to know the full details of what went on.

“This ongoing ticket scandal is an embarrassment, not just for the OCI but for the country in general. I am calling on the OCI and its president, Pat Hickey, to appear before PAC and answer questions from myself and my fellow committee members,” he said.

In terms of the Mr O’Reilly doping scandal, it is a massive wake-up call to those in authority in Irish sport as to how clean our athletes are.

The Irish Sports Council’s director of participation and ethics has said athletes, and the public, continue to take supplements despite huge risks associated with them. Dr Una May said the Sports Council has failed to convince athletes not to take supplements but provides them with clear guidelines about the risks. So while Mr Ross has urged the country to get behind the remaining boxers and other athletes left in Rio in a bid to land a medal, undoubtedly the two scandals have overshadowed the games for Ireland.

We, the taxpayers, deserve absolute clarity from the OCI as to what happened with the ticket touting and we also deserve greater clarity from the IABA and Sport Ireland as to how Mr O’Reilly was allowed on the plane to Rio when he failed his drugs test at home.

Mr Ross said this is one of the main issues that will need to be clarified and he is absolutely spot on.

As minister, Mr Ross is demanding answers. We the people deserve nothing less.

Our place on the scandal podium

The first week of the Olympics has been dominated by two Irish scandals and little success in events. What’s going on?

Russia may be taking home gold when it comes to controversy in Rio, but Ireland is so far easily occupying the silver and bronze medal podium places.

Since the Olympics began this country has been caught up in not one but two controversies.

The first, broken by the Irish Examiner last Thursday, involved boxer Michael O’Reilly’s positive drugs test. The second saw an Irishman charged in Brazil with attempting to sell over 1,000 tickets given to Irish Olympics authorities on the black market - leading to serious corruption claims.

O’Reilly is not competing. What’s happening?

On Tuesday, middleweight boxer Michael O’Reilly admitted to a positive dope test and is facing a potential four-year ban. He had initially sought a B sample test to clear his name.

So, has he admitted to knowingly cheating?

No, and this is an important legal distinction to make. A solicitor’s statement on behalf of Mr O Reilly on Tuesday evening said he “unintentionally” took a banned substance in an unknown supplement. The Olympic Council of Ireland is investigating.

There is an unrelated black-market ticket scandal. What does this involve?

Irishman and THG director Kevin James Mallon was arrested in Rio alongside his translator amid claims he was trying to sell more than 1,000 tickets on the black market specifically given to Irish authorities.

He is potentially facing criminal charges in Brazil.

Fans don’t like it, but touting happens all the time. Why is this such a big deal?

This is far worse than normal touting because it involves tickets given to Irish authorities, a situation which raises corruption questions in Irish sport.

Will there be a state investigation into this second scandal?

No, or at least not yet. Sports Minister Shane Ross has said he is “not directly involved” so far and that both the Brazilian criminal investigation and a separate Olympic Council of Ireland inquiry must be concluded first.

However, given the serious allegations, opposition anger and calls from Fine Gael backbencher Noel Rock for the public accounts committee to become involved, don’t expect the political damage to die that easily.

And the sport itself? How are we doing?

Oh yes, the sport. You could be forgiven for forgetting about it given recent events. It’s early days, but the fact Ireland has failed to come even close to the podium is hardly the tonic to our Olympic woes.

— Fiachra Ó Cionnaith


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