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Tuesday 23 January 2018

Olympic Council 'a closed shop' says O’Byrne as battle to take over from Hickey heats up

Basketball Ireland chief executive Bernard O’Byrne. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Basketball Ireland chief executive Bernard O’Byrne. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

One of the candidates to succeed Pat Hickey as president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) has hit out at his rivals and claimed the organisation is “a closed shop”.

Basketball Ireland chief executive Bernard O’Byrne made the allegation in a letter issued to sports federations ahead of elections to the council’s executive committee, which take place tomorrow.

He also criticised the outgoing executive committee, the organisation’s board, for what he described as “a series of poor decisions”, including moves to exclude the media from the elections.

That decision was rescinded last week, a day after federations were notified of the media ban.

Tomorrow’s election will see the OCI getting a new president for the first time in 28 years.

Eleven other roles will also be filled on the executive committee at an EGM.

Mr Hickey’s reign was brought to an abrupt halt when he stepped aside temporarily following his arrest in Rio de Janeiro last August on suspicion of ticket touting, which he strenuously denies.

Former FAI chief executive O’Byrne is considered the outsider in the three-way race to succeed Mr Hickey, with many observers believing either Swim Ireland chief executive Sarah Keane or acting OCI president Willie O’Brien will win. But he has been seeking to gain ground on his rivals as the vote draws closer.

The president of his federation, Theresa Walsh, yesterday issued a letter hitting out at what she described as reported “attempts by a clique of OCI members to decide the outcome before the vote.”

But in a surprise move, given Mr O’Byrne’s criticism of the outgoing committee, she also said Basketball Ireland would be voting for OCI honorary general secretary Dermot Henihan, who is seeking another term in that role.

Mr Henihan’s rival for general secretary, solicitor Sarah O’Shea, is being supported by Ms Keane.

In his letter, Mr O’Byrne said his lack of experience on the OCI would be “a distinct advantage” rather than a hindrance.

He said Mr O’Brien was Mr Hickey’s assistant for 20 years.

Mr O’Byrne has previously accused both of his opponents of being part of the “old guard” at the OCI.

But Mr O’Brien has said his 20 years of OCI experience would help provide continuity as the council sets about implementing reforms recommended by consultants Deloitte.

However, critics point out that a key recommendation of Deloitte is that no member of the executive committeeserve more than two four-year terms.

Were Mr O’Brien to win, he would end up serving 24 years on the OCI board.

Ms Keane, who has been on the executive for two years, was a member of the OCI crisis committee set up in the wake of Mr Hickey’s arrest.

She has pledged to reform OCI structures while ensuring member federations are treated equally, regardless of size.

She told federations her goal was to make the OCI “an example of the best practice of sports administration and governance”.

She also pledged to maximise supports to organisations who do not receive state funding.

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