DARK shadows hanging over Ireland’s participation in the Olympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro, were lifted briefly by two sparkling events over the weekend.
Notwithstanding the lacklustre performance of our boxers, from whom so much was expected but who failed to win a medal (amid controversies over doping, betting and bent refereeing), all the athletes and their coaches were welcomed yesterday by President Michael D Higgins and his wife, Sabina, to Áras an Úachtaráin.
Mind you, in the course of his address, the President, who has an admirable reputation for being a straight talker, pulled no punches. He reminded his audience that serious issues had been exposed in Rio, on doping and the administration of sport. He said that if these were not addressed, they had the potential to undermine public confidence “in our athletes, in our sporting administration, and in the fairness of international sporting competition itself”. Naturally, the other notable sporting event of the weekend was the scintillating gold-medal victory of Skibbereen rower, Paul O’Donovan, at the World Rowing Championships, in Rotterdam. Keeping a promise made to pals in Rio, after he won a silver medal there with his brother, Gary, in the lightweight double sculls, he gave a stunning performance in the single sculls, beating world-class opponents by a four-second margin. In rowing, that is worth a mile.
In his disarming interview style, he said: “With 500m left, I remembered I told my friends, when I was in Rio, that I would win here by open water, so I thought I should probably keep my promise. Then, at 200m to go, I guess I started smiling a little.” If the brothers were largely unknown outside the sport before the Rio games, they have now become household names in Ireland. Indeed, their exploits are the stuff of T-shirt legends around the globe.
Overnight, the O’Donovans have emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the highly competitive world of rowing, a sport that tends to be neglected here. Hopefully, it will now get the financial support it deserves from the powers that be in Irish sports. Fittingly, their achievements at Rio and Rotterdam will be celebrated by the people of West Cork, in Skibbereen, tonight, at what promises to be the party to end all parties.
Meanwhile, Pat Hickey, who has stepped aside from his presidency of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) and the European Olympic Council, following his arrest in Brazil 12 days ago on suspicion of illegal ticket-selling, is still languishing in prison. However, yesterday’s release on bail of fellow Irishman, Kevin Mallon, who was arrested just before the opening ceremony, but who has yet to be charged, suggests that Mr Hickey could also be released on bail, shortly.
Hickey was recently appointed by the Government to the committee that oversees Ireland’s bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. While he has not resigned from that body, his membership of the oversight board will, according to a spokesman for Sports Minister Shane Ross, be kept under continuing review. Now is the time for Ireland to learn the harsh lessons of Olympics 2016.
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