Tuesday 6 December 2016

Off the Ball: Olympic scandal is our chance to rip it up and start again

Ger Gilroy

Published 24/08/2016 | 02:30

The scandal at the Olympic Council of Ireland will shine a megawatt bulb into their governance (Stock picture)
The scandal at the Olympic Council of Ireland will shine a megawatt bulb into their governance (Stock picture)

All at the same time the Olympics are great and terrible, life-affirming and the cause of endless cynicism, a giant souped-up jamboree of drugs and truly a reflection of the miracles of human endeavour.

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For some of the athletes involved, the last few weeks will be a touchstone for the rest of their lives, proof that they can compete with the best in the world through hard work and positive thinking.

For others, it was a chance to score some extra sponsor dollars and road-test the latest designer pharmaceuticals.

The scandal at the Olympic Council of Ireland will shine a megawatt bulb into their governance. It must serve a greater purpose than an investigation into how every last penny gets apportioned. While that's necessary, we really need a coherent structure around what we're trying to achieve.

The Olympic Games are exclusively about who can run the fastest, jump highest and throw furthest; they are a competition and they're about winning.

It's not about and never has been about increasing participation or inspiring generations to get off their couch.

That's the job of us as a community, the politicians we elect and the civil servants the country picks to help aid that process. We can't outsource our failings to the IOC or the OCI. The Games are the end of that process, not the beginning.

If we want to look at this narrow focus of the Games, then comparisons between Ireland and New Zealand are always worth teasing out - where we have GAA they have rugby as a national sport; our exchequer returns are broadly in line, though New Zealand appears to be better run fiscally than we are.

Population-wise we tally nicely. They had 18 medals these Games and we had two.

They've invested tonnes of cash in winning medals, particularly in women's sports - they sent more women than men for the first time ever to the Games - and were rewarded with an increased medal haul again.

No doubt their policy isn't perfect but it appears as if they understand that funding must exist at all levels, not just the top of the tree.

We have in the current crisis our greatest opportunity to rip up the current system.

Ireland wants a sports model that has participation and volunteerism and community at its heart while using our elite athletes to build a high performance culture that allows our talent to develop and compete on the world stage.

We have lots of smart, committed sports people out there.

This is their time.

Irish Independent

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