News Irish News

Saturday 24 August 2019

Odds stacked against any quick reform of Olympic Council

Pat Hickey is taken in for questioning by police in Rio de Janeiro Photo: Hans Georg
Pat Hickey is taken in for questioning by police in Rio de Janeiro Photo: Hans Georg
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Anyone hoping for sweeping reforms at the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) when it holds an extraordinary general meeting in February may well end up disappointed.

The meeting has been called to elect a new executive committee and is also expected to involve debate on the governance of the council following the circulation to 36 member federations of a review by consultancy firm Deloitte.

The report was commissioned by the OCI in the wake of the Rio Olympics ticketing controversy and the arrest of its president Pat Hickey in Brazil on suspicion of ticket touting, money laundering and tax evasion.

A fortnight ago, the OCI told the Irish Independent that the outgoing executive committee, the organisation's board, would be meeting to consider the Deloitte findings with a view to putting resolutions to the EGM.

Deloitte pulled no punches in its assessment of governance at the OCI.

It found the capacity of members to call meetings was significantly less than in other similar bodies, there was limited attention to ethics and conflicts of interest, and no limit on the length of time office holders could retain their position.

The absence of term limits allowed Mr Hickey to remain president of the OCI for 28 years until he temporarily stepped aside after his arrest.

A lengthy list of recommendations was made, many of which would require a vote of the council's membership to be implemented.

But while a board meeting has been scheduled for early January, an OCI spokesman told the Irish Independent yesterday it was "unlikely" the executive committee would be putting forward any motions to the EGM the following month.

This would appear to leave the ball in the court of the member federations, who represent various Olympic sports in Ireland.

In this scenario, any motions for changes to the way the OCI is run would have to come from them.

The spokesman's remarks will puzzle some members of the executive committee, who have insisted that at least some of the Deloitte recommendations, including those on term limits, must be implemented immediately.

To complicate matters further, OCI officials have raised question marks over whether any motions that would change its memorandum and articles of association can be put to the EGM without prior approval from the supreme body of the Olympic movement, the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"The most efficient way to process changes is to seek IOC approval before presenting options to members at an EGM for approval," the OCI said in a statement.

Any motions affecting corporate governance would require a 75pc majority to pass and there is no guarantee that level of unanimity could be achieved in what is a deeply divided organisation.

With the election of a new executive committee also on the agenda, it seems increasingly likely the energies of various factions will be taken up with the power struggle between Mr Hickey's loyalists and those pressing for change.

It all points to a situation where circumstances force the postponement of any real effort at reform until after the EGM.

Some advocates for change fear it could take years unless enough people are willing to "grasp the nettle".

The Government has given large sporting organisations in receipt of State funding, such as the OCI, until January 2019 to sign up to a new governance code, which mirrors many of the Deloitte recommendations.

The impact of Mr Hickey's imminent return to Dublin on what happens at the EGM cannot be discounted either.

Although he pledged to stand aside as OCI president for the duration of the criminal investigation, there have been mixed messages about his future intentions.

Read More: Hickey's return home 'imminent' after bail of €410,000 lodged

An OCI statement issued to the Irish Independent a fortnight ago said Mr Hickey had not made his intentions known as regards his future involvement with the organisation.

But yesterday, the OCI's spokesman insisted Mr Hickey had indicated he was not going to stand again.

As it happens, one of the many quirks of the OCI's rulebook means he would not have to run for election to secure a place on the executive committee.

Under the memorandum and articles of association, IOC members in Ireland are automatically entitled to sit on the OCI executive committee. Mr Hickey remains an IOC member, albeit he is described as "temporarily self-suspended".

While an OCI power struggle looms, the judge appointed by the Government to inquire into the Rio tickets affair has been working away in the background.

Judge Carroll Moran will be hoping to get more information from OCI staff than was given to consultants Grant Thornton.

They were commissioned by the OCI to do a report on the tickets affair and to forward it to Judge Moran.

But their review was halted after Mr Hickey's lawyers threatened an injunction preventing its completion.

Grant Thornton's review had already been hampered by a number of OCI staff not making themselves available.

Several individuals engaged with the consultants via their solicitors, but had not been interviewed before the review was stopped.

Despite this, the Grant Thornton review was said to have been close to completion.

Whatever findings it would have made would have been largely based on material from the OCI's computer servers, including emails and financial information secured by a data security firm after Mr Hickey's arrest.

It has now been made available to Judge Moran.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News