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As outsider with new broom, I could put OCI at heart of our nation's obsession with sport

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Boxer Katie Taylor returns home from London 2012 with her gold medal. ‘Meeting athletes like Taylor would inspire our future sports people.’ Photo: Pat Murphy/ Sportsfile

Boxer Katie Taylor returns home from London 2012 with her gold medal. ‘Meeting athletes like Taylor would inspire our future sports people.’ Photo: Pat Murphy/ Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Boxer Katie Taylor returns home from London 2012 with her gold medal. ‘Meeting athletes like Taylor would inspire our future sports people.’ Photo: Pat Murphy/ Sportsfile

'The very best of luck, but why would you bother?" That has been the most frequent response from friends, family and colleagues since news of my candidacy for the OCI presidential election broke earlier this week.

Well, first of all, it is not for financial reasons, as the post is voluntary and therefore, unpaid. The simple answer is that the Olympic ideal means something to me and I feel I have the expertise, knowledge and ideas to make the Olympic brand respected in Ireland and relevant to Irish sport.

As a youngster, I was only exposed to the GAA by the Christian Brothers and to soccer by 'Match of the Day' on the BBC, so during my childhood and teenage years, the Olympic Games spectacle was a window into the varied delights of new worlds of sport: weightlifting, pole-vaulting, gymnastics and many other never seen, as far as I was concerned, in the hinterland of Inchicore where I had been brought up.

To my young eyes back then, those Games, those sports, those athletes - they were all something magical.

Fast-forward to Rio 2016, however, and those times seem a very long way off indeed.

The Olympic brand has long since been damaged by all kinds of factors and the Olympic Council of Ireland has slumped into a level of ridicule and suspicion never before seen.

I could easily name a list of fine people in Olympic sport in Ireland but I think the more relevant consideration is the 34 National Governing Bodies full of talented athletes and genuine volunteers who strive to better themselves on a daily basis to be the best that they can be.

As a result, I offer myself as an outsider to this role: an outsider who will reform, improve and drive the OCI on to a better place, a place where governance, compliance with company law, and proper and efficient internal structures are not optional extras, but essentials - essentials that are needed to build confidence and unity.

This work will not be a one-man job, but I know there are many who will be willing to play a part when they see it is not simply a window-dressing exercise and is, in fact, a genuine new direction.

It is my belief that central to all decision-making and all actions undertaken by the OCI should be the sports, the athletes and the volunteers.

Ireland is a sports-mad nation and the OCI should be in the middle of the action, providing initiatives and ideas to encourage our obsession with all sports.

Why has the OCI never had an Olympic exhibition, where all 34 sports come together in a location and set out their sports for bus-loads of secondary school kids to see all their options and choose three or four to try out?

Why has the OCI not been seen to value our Olympic heroes by asking them to attend such an exhibition and talk to the young people?

Imagine the collective impression that Sonia O'Sullivan, Eamon Coghlan, Mick Dowling, Katie Taylor, the O'Donovan brothers, Annalise Murphy etc could have in direct conversation with young potential athletes?

The OCI needs to form stronger amicable relations with Sport Ireland and the Government.

Don't believe any fluff you hear, there is plenty of room for improvement - believe me.

Other candidates, especially those who were in the executive committee room previously and failed to ask the right questions or accepted inadequate answers, may believe that a few tweaks here and there will make everything better.

I say no way.

Answers are still due as to how much executive members knew about ticketing.

Why was looking after athletes and athletes' families for ticket allocation not a top priority or in some cases, apparently not even addressed?

A new broom is needed, fresh attitudes, and a record of actually getting things done.

If it's change and revival that my 34 colleagues at the head of National Governing Bodies want then, as Leonard Cohen would say, 'I'm your man'.

Bernard O'Byrne, a former chief executive of the FAI and the current CEO of Basketball Ireland, is a candidate for the OCI presidential election

Irish Independent