Monday 22 December 2014

O'Leary isn't the one who deserves an apology

Published 15/12/2012 | 05:00

What an oddly pugnacious response from Irish sailing to the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision to close the Peter O'Leary betting saga with a warning.

Their declaration that the IOC investigation uncovered "a vastly different picture from the story portrayed" seems particularly curious.

How exactly is it different? O'Leary isn't exonerated in the report. He escapes censure only on the basis that "general awareness" of the Olympic rule on betting was, in 2008, maybe not what it is today.

But it does point out that, on March 31 of that year, O'Leary signed the entry/eligibility conditions for participation in Beijing, clearly prohibiting athletes from "betting on any competition of the Olympic Games".

There is also a fundamental error in the IOC report. It states that O'Leary made his controversial bets on August 21, the day of the medal race in Beijing for which he had not qualified. This is untrue.

In documentation held by the Irish Independent, O'Leary's bets are seen to have been made on August 14, the day before sailing commenced at the Beijing Games. It would, presumably, have been his hope and ambition then to be competing in the medal race one week later.

Unsafe

Olympic Charter or not, the practice of backing an opponent to win an event in which you are competing is, to put it mildly, unsafe.

That said, I took little pleasure in pursuing the story to Weymouth last August, where O'Leary and his team-mate David Burrows were considered medal contenders in the Star keelboat category.

The information had, clearly, come into this newspaper's possession with hostile motivation and timing. But it could scarcely be ignored, given the possible implications for O'Leary if he did make it to the medal podium.

The Irish Independent chose not to name him when breaking the story and, indeed, went to considerable lengths to avoid any detail that might make O'Leary identifiable in the copy.

Equally, Pat Hickey did not mention the Corkman when confirming to this newspaper that the Olympic Council of Ireland had, indeed, instigated an investigation into allegations of illegal betting by an Irish Olympian. Unlike so many administrators in Irish sport, Hickey provides a straight answer to a straight question.

He would describe subsequent attempts by certain other newspapers to discredit the story as "incredibly lazy journalism", given the remarkable dearth of check calls made to his number.

O'Leary, unfortunately, was named publicly as the athlete under investigation within 24 hours of the story breaking and, thus, Weymouth suddenly became the focus for more than just sailing media.

It can't have been easy for high performance director James O'Callaghan, but he proved routinely civil and understanding in his dealings with journalists dispatched from London to seek reaction from O'Leary.

Sadly, however, a breathtaking lack of media savvy from those advising the Corkman led to shambolic optics on the pier-side.

Instead of cursory engagement along the lines of "the matter is in the hands of my solicitors and I'll be making no further comment" Peter – in hood and dark glasses – shuffled past journalists with his head down, their shouted questions following him like gunshot.

For two days, this clumsy parody was repeated and you couldn't help but think how one simple statement could have decommissioned the scrutiny.

Burrows, meanwhile, walked through the 'mixed zone', happy to chat to the media about the day's sailing until, inevitably, the incendiary question about his team-mate would arrive and, politely, he'd excuse himself.

Did the saga undermine their medal chances? O'Callaghan clearly believes so, though given that their best performances of the week were delivered the day after the story broke, it's impossible to be certain.

When Irish Sailing issued their remarkably bullish response to the IOC report last week, I immediately emailed their communications officer to suggest that their statement was misleading.

I received an automated response, saying the officer was on leave until Monday, January 7.

Last Monday, a press release came from the same email address, announcing a new sponsorship deal.

It has been suggested in some quarters, rather bizarrely, that the man at the centre of this story is deserving of an apology. He isn't. The only apology due is to David Burrows.

And it should come from Peter O'Leary.

Irish Independent

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