Sunday 25 September 2016

President bemoans Olympic scandals as Rio heroes visit áras

Published 29/08/2016 | 02:30

Sailing silver medallist Annalise Murphy with President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
Sailing silver medallist Annalise Murphy with President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina. Photo: Colin O’Riordan

President Michael D Higgins used a homecoming event for Ireland's athletes returning from Rio to address controversies surrounding this year's Olympics.

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Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina were effusive in their praise for Team Ireland as they welcomed them to Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday.

Triathelete Bryan Keane arrives by bicycle. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
Triathelete Bryan Keane arrives by bicycle. Photo: Colin O’Riordan

Mr Higgins also addressed issues such as doping, poor adjudication and "administration".

He said the Olympics in Rio raised "serious issues" for Ireland and the broader Olympic family.

The Irish boxing team were notable by their absence - not a single member turned up to meet with Mr Higgins and his wife.

However, the President spoke about issues that would have been very familiar to the Irish boxers.

Members of The Irish Olympics Team (FROM LEFT) Breege Connolly, Athletics, Ciara Everard, Athletics, Saskia Tidey, Sailing, Tom Barr, Athletics and Scott Evans, Badminton, pictured during an official visit to Aras An Uachtarain. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
Members of The Irish Olympics Team (FROM LEFT) Breege Connolly, Athletics, Ciara Everard, Athletics, Saskia Tidey, Sailing, Tom Barr, Athletics and Scott Evans, Badminton, pictured during an official visit to Aras An Uachtarain. Photo: Colin O’Riordan

Michael O'Reilly was ejected from the games after it emerged he failed a drugs test.

The President spoke about "questionable decision making by referees and judges", in a segment of his speech taken to be a reference to the decisions against boxers such as Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor.

"These Olympic Games have also exposed some serious issues for us, both here in Ireland and amongst the entire Olympic family," he said.

"Issues of doping, so cruelly unfair to the clean athlete, alas never far from the Olympic story in recent years, questionable decision making by referees and judges during the games, and the controversy around the administration of our sports all deserve serious analysis and fearless responses."

Sakia Tidey with her father Don. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
Sakia Tidey with her father Don. Photo: Colin O’Riordan

However, he did not specifically mention the ticket-touting scandal, which has resulted in the OCI's president Pat Hickey being imprisoned in Brazil.

Among those who attended the event was sailing hero and Olympic silver medallist Annalise Murphy.

As she was showing off her medal to Sabina Higgins, she was complimented on doing Ireland proud. "You're a new Greek goddess," Mrs Higgins told the beaming athlete.

There were a number of light-hearted moments during the event. When Mr Higgins was meeting with badminton player Scott Evans, he joked that he used to pay badminton himself "in prehistoric times".

Pride

Former supermarket boss Don Tidey, who was kidnapped by the IRA for 23 days in 1983, was also in attendance. He was bursting with pride as the President met his daughter Saskia Tidey, who represented Ireland in sailing.

Sports Minister Shane Ross and William O'Brien, the acting president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), were also in attendance.

Thomas Barr, who finished fourth in the 400m hurdles, was also among the 24 athletes who turned up for the event.

Journalists were not allowed to question the officials, athletes or the President, owing to the nature of the event.

"We all shared in Annalise's joy following her bitter-sweet experience at the London Olympics and that silver medal was long-awaited and extremely well deserved," Mr Higgins said.

"The fantastic achievements of our Rio medallists and all of our athletes who competed at the highest level have instilled such pride in Irish people everywhere.

"And you have shown yourselves as true and vibrant ambassadors for your country."

The President also spoke about Cork brothers Gary and Paul O'Donovan, who scooped a silver medal in the Olympic double sculls event.

The pair have since been at the World Rowing Championships in Rotterdam, where Paul won gold. A homecoming event has been organised in their native Skibbereen today.

"The O'Donovan brothers have brought Irish rowing to the world's attention, and seeing them on the podium collecting their medals was an enormously proud moment for the country," the President said.

Irish Independent

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