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Friday 14 December 2018

Swim chief takes lead in OCI race after O'Brien's flights admission

Swim Ireland chief Sarah Keane has seen a surge of support in her battle against acting president Willie O’Brien and Bernard O’Byrne. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile
Swim Ireland chief Sarah Keane has seen a surge of support in her battle against acting president Willie O’Brien and Bernard O’Byrne. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The race to succeed Pat Hickey as leader of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) is intensifying, with just over a week until the crucial vote that will help shape the embattled organisation's future.

The past fortnight has seen a surge in support for Swim Ireland chief executive Sarah Keane, who is locked in a three-way battle with outgoing acting president Willie O'Brien and Basketball Ireland boss Bernard O'Byrne.

But the chances of Mr O'Brien have been damaged in recent days by revelations he flew business class to the Rio Olympics while athletes flew economy.

He also admitted to RTÉ Radio at the weekend he had probably taken his "eye off the ball" on transparency and management requirements while he was OCI vice president.

Acting president Willie O’Brien. Photo: Arthur Carron
Acting president Willie O’Brien. Photo: Arthur Carron

He also appeared to disagree with a draft report carried out by Deloitte into governance at the OCI in the wake of the Rio ticketing scandal.

The report says no member of the executive committee should serve more than 12 years. If O'Brien was to win, by the end of the term he would have served 24 years.

Mr O'Brien told RTÉ: "I definitely agree that once you get to the position of leader of the organisation that the term limit should be limited to the two terms with the option for the third term if it's necessary."

But he added: "We can't just look at it in isolation of cutting everything off after two terms, or three terms, putting everybody out, throwing out the baby with the bath water and starting off all over again."

Bernard O'Byrne. Photo: Damien Eagers
Bernard O'Byrne. Photo: Damien Eagers

Insiders are saying the race will be too close to call, with many federations still undecided or not indicating who they will vote for.

The trio are vying for the support of 36 member federations and the nine votes available from outgoing members of the OCI's executive committee.

While much of the campaigning has been behind the scenes, the Irish Independent has learned leading figures in five sporting federations have broken cover to back Ms Keane.

The solicitor, who served on the OCI executive committee for the past two years, was a member of the crisis committee set up in the wake of Mr Hickey's arrest on suspicion of ticket touting at the Rio Olympics.

Letters in support of her candidacy have been issued by Hockey Ireland chairman Brian Caruth, Snowsports Association of Ireland president Robert Norwood, Gymnastics Ireland chief executive Ciaran Gallagher and the chairman of the Irish Sailing Olympic steering group, Colm Barrington. Paralympics Ireland has issued a press release in support of Ms Keane, who also enjoys the support of her own federation.

Mr O'Brien, a 20-year veteran of the OCI and close ally of Mr Hickey, has the public support of Archery Ireland, the Irish Ice Hockey Association and the Irish Amateur Wrestling Association.

And Mr O'Byrne, who is considered the outsider in the race, is being backed by his own federation.

Despite the surge in support for Ms Keane, OCI insiders said the race was likely to be very tight and could be too close to call. Sources said Mr O'Brien had been making huge efforts to shore up his support and met with representatives from a number of federations during the past week.

Close observers said one factor in Mr O'Brien's favour is that the "anti-Hickey" vote could be split between Ms Keane and Mr O'Byrne, potentially weakening their chances.

The winner will be whoever is first past the post when voting takes place at an extraordinary general meeting on February 9.

Irish Independent

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