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Olympics: No change No plan No hope

I f the Genesis report on Ireland's performance at the Beijing Olympics had been commissioned by anyone other than Pat Hickey's Olympic Council of Ireland, it would have had a greater chance of encouraging change in the way sport is run.

Hickey, the president of the OCI, is what newspapers call a colourful character. Jim McDaid, the former sports minister, put it differently, describing him as "divisive" and "corrosive."

A consummate politician, Hickey has climbed the ladder of the international Olympian movement while seeing off spirited challenges at home. But the OCI he leads is an emasculated shadow of what it once was.

The creation of the Irish Sports Council at the end of the 1990s, prompted in part by the debacle in Atlanta when Sonia O'Sullivan was forced to change kit before her race, should have consigned Hickey to the backbenches of sporting politics.

The ISC took over the funding of Olympic competitors, stripping the OCI of the power that money bestows and it became the JWT of Irish sport: the OCI would continue to set qualification standards, but its primary role was reduced to the logistics of travel arrangements and accommodation.

Hickey, though, is not a man to stay quiet and the OCI's commissioning of the Genesis report on Beijing is viewed as the latest development in its spat with the ISC and John Treacy, its chief executive. That does not mean that its conclusions should be ignored, or that its criticisms lack validity, but instead of sounding a fresh note of warning about the unhappy state of Irish Olympic sport, the report was greeted with the collective groans of a sporting media that is weary from the infighting. As The Irish Times said in an editorial, "If finger pointing ever became an Olympic sport, Ireland would be gold medal contenders".

Ignore the underlying politics, however, and the Genesis conclusions are truly grim.

"There is need for a culture of performance and discipline, not acceptable mediocrity and indiscipline. Irish athletes, their coaches, managers and administrators (in general) lack the ambition, attitude and self-belief of comparator nations," it says.

On the co-operation between the various sporting bodies that are meant to provide leadership, Genesis says: "Given the number of reviews of previous Games it would have been reasonable to expect a significant improvement in the quality of planning for the Beijing Olympiad. The result was a continuation of the naïve, unprofessional planning of previous Olympiads."

And as for our medal hopes in 2012, when the Games come to London? "None of the sports appear to have any concrete objectives for 2012 other than more Irish athletes attending."

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It is depressing reading: Irish sport is badly run from the top down, with the ISC providing no leadership, the Institute of Sport barely functioning and the national federations drifting in mediocrity. There were just three personal bests achieved by athletes at the Beijing Games: those three athletes (two swimmers and a walker) and the boxers, with medals for Kenny Egan, Darren Sutherland (pictured) and Paddy Barnes, masked an otherwise poor team performance.

Genesis calls for a proper talent identification programme, for active co-ordination, for the elevation of the Institute of Sport into something useful, for transparency in performance planning: all basic stuff, all promised eight years ago, and all absent or inadequate. Worst of all, Genesis says that far from seizing the opportunities that London's proximity should present, Ireland has yet to even formulate a plan.

While it is amusing that a report commissioned by the OCI should bemoan a lack of "real enthusiastic partnership," the Genesis assessment should be seized upon by Martin Cullen, the minister for sport.

It calls on him to set up, urgently, a joint planning group to "prepare a strategy and action plan for 2012, and meet quarterly to monitor and evaluate progress. On this basis, 10 meetings will be possible between now and the 2012 Olympic Games. The main task will be to instil an enhanced performance system for this and future Olympiads."

His officials may disagree -- they wear the same jerseys as the ISC -- but Cullen must be able to see the dysfunction for himself, and must put it right. The starting point is change at the top: Treacy, fine athlete but ineffective chief executive of the ISC, has to be replaced.

If Cullen can summon the energy to reform the way sport is governed, if he can see that Genesis makes valid points, no matter who paid for them, then we might have something to cheer about in 2012.

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