Sunday 18 February 2018

'It's a pity the horse was dopy' - OCI presidential candidate Willie O'Brien's favourite Olympic moment has raised eyebrows

Willie O'Brien highlighted Cian O'Connor's Olympic gold as his favourite Olympic moment
Willie O'Brien highlighted Cian O'Connor's Olympic gold as his favourite Olympic moment
Bernard O'Byrne, Willie O'Brien and Sarah Keane

Harry Clarke

OCI presidential candidate Willie O'Brien raised quite a few eyebrows yesterday when he revealed his favourite Olympic moment.

O'Brien will go head to head with Bernard O'Byrne and Sarah Keane in tonight's vote to decide who will take over from Pat Hickey and be the next president of the Olympic Council of Ireland.

All three candidates took part in a Q&A with Sport For Business yesterday, and one question asked was what their favourite Olympic moment was.

While O'Byrne went for Michael Carruth's memorable gold medal win in 1992 and Keane opted to discuss how watching the Games in 1984 reminded her how sport unites people, Cian O'Connor's controversial 2004 Olympic gold was top of the list for O'Brien.

The medal was subsequently revoked after it emerged that the horse, Waterford Crystal, tested positive for banned sunstances.

"Sitting in the stand as Cian O’Connor won gold for Ireland in Athens – pity the horse was dopy!" - said O'Brien when asked his favourite Olympic moment.

O'Brien's somewhat bizarre response comes on the back of a controversial radio interview with RTE's Joanne Cantwell last week.

O'Brien has been an executive member of the OCI since 1996 and has been fulfilling the role of president in an acting capacity since Hickey stepped aside last August. During the interview he pledged to oversee the implementation of all the recommendations contained in the Deloitte report which was commissioned after events in Rio.

However, one of those recommendations centred on term limits, with eight years - 12 in exceptional circumstances - suggested, and O'Brien is already well beyond that as it is. He countered by arguing that he had the requisite experience to lead change in the organisation, but the contradiction in his argument loomed large: "In order to implement them, I have stay on and work on implementing them," he said.

Then there was the conclusion of the interview, where once again he stumbled:

Joanne Cantwell: As president, will you travel first class?

Willie O'Brien: No.

JC: Have you travelled first class in your time with the OCI?

WOB: I have travelled first class, yeah.

JC: Often? While athletes travelled economy?

WOB: No, never while athletes travelled economy.

JC: How did you go to Rio?

WOB: I went to Rio business class.

JC: OK, business class but the athletes travelled first . . . or, em, economy did they?

WOB: The athletes travelled economy, yeah.

JC: Is that something you intend to continue or will you travel the same as the athletes do?

WOB: No. I didn't travel with the athletes. I travelled separately.

JC: I know that, but if they're travelling economy do you think that it's right that a member of the OCI travels business class?

WOB: I believe that everybody on a long-haul trip like Rio . . . that everybody should travel business class, unfortunately it's such an expensive commodity that the OCI couldn't afford.

JC: But they could afford it for members of the OCI?

WOB: They could afford it . . . I'll admit to that.

Bernard O'Byrne, Willie O'Brien and Sarah Keane


Sarah Keane

A LEGAL row heralded the start of Sarah Keane’s career with Swim Ireland, proving a baptism of fire.

At the time a young solicitor of just 29, she was forced to take out an interim injunction after being appointed as CEO and then receiving a letter from the association appearing to row back on the job offer.

It rumbled on for six months until it was resolved in January 2004, Ms Keane remaining in place.

A former national swimming champion whose hobbies include open sea swimming, the 43-year-old mother-of-three from Terenure, Dublin was appointed to the Olympic Council in 2014.

She is also a member of the boards of both the Federation of Irish Sport, the umbrella body for sporting organisations in Ireland, and Ireland Active, an umbrella body for many organisations in the leisure and fitness industry.

She was part of the original three-person crisis management committee set up in the immediate aftermath of Pat Hickey’s arrest in Rio and has defended Mr Hickey’s record, saying he was “a fantastic ambassador for sport internationally”.

Bernard O'Byrne

FORMER finance minister Charlie McCreevy once told Bernard O’Byrne that he always advised anyone who wanted to get into politics to first try sports politics “because that will toughen you up”.

The 62-year-old CEO of Basketball Ireland lives in Athboy, Co Meath, and is a married father of one adult daughter.

He is a member of Mensa and is fond of pub quizzes and theatre.

Mr O’Byrne cut his teeth in the Athletic Union League (AUL) and rose through the ranks to become CEO of the FAI.

His tenure is remembered for his spearheading of the Eircom Park project, spiked after the initial costings ballooned.

Mr O’Byrne resigned in 2001 amid claims he had used the association’s credit card for his own personal use but explained it as an administrative error.

Mr O’Byrne has revealed how he had written to the FAI to ask for their support but said he had not received a reply, adding: “There’s no reason why they shouldn’t but it was a choice by them.”

Willie O'Brien

Born in Drumcondra in Dublin, Mr O’Brien is married with one son.

The 68-year-old acting president of the Olympic Council of Ireland has vigorously defended the organisation against criticism.

He is the former president of Archery Ireland and his association with the Olympics goes back decades.

He was Chef de Mission for the Irish team during the World Youth Olympics in Moscow in 1998, Deputy Chef de Mission in Sydney in 2000 and Chef de Mission in Athens in 2004.

Pat Hickey’s right-hand man, Mr O’Brien was part of the OCI delegation who met Sports Minister Shane Ross in the upmarket hotel in Rio in the notorious attempt to put the minister “back in his box”.

The Deloitte report into the Rio allegations recommends no member of the executive committee should serve more than 12 years consecutive or cumulative. If Mr O’Brien wins, he will have served 24 years.

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