Wednesday 21 March 2018

New Olympic chief is a battler who believes athletes must come first

New OCI president Sarah Keane with rival candidates, Willie O’Brien (left) and Bernard O’Byrne at the council elections at The Conrad Hotel in Dublin last night. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
New OCI president Sarah Keane with rival candidates, Willie O’Brien (left) and Bernard O’Byrne at the council elections at The Conrad Hotel in Dublin last night. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

A baffling legal row heralded the start of Sarah Keane's career with Swim Ireland. It proved a baptism of fire.

At the time a young solicitor of just 29, she was forced to take out an interim injunction restraining the association from appointing any other person to the post.

In an affidavit, she said she tendered her resignation as an associate partner from the well-known Dublin solicitors firm of Matheson Ormsby Prentice -where she worked for eight years - after receiving a letter in 2003 offering her the position as chief executive of the swimming body.

However, her barrister told the court she had received a letter a month later which appeared to be attempting to row back on the offer, although the meaning was not entirely clear.

Judge Paul Gilligan told the court that 'unfortunately what had occurred was that while a majority of the board did not wish to employ her, a minority, purporting to act on its behalf, confirmed her appointment without authority to do so.'

The dispute rumbled on for six months before her appointment as chief executive was confirmed.

In 2006, it emerged that despite the shocking revelations of child sex abuse involving swimming coach Derry O'Rourke which had led to the changes within Swim Ireland, children were still being taught by swimming coaches who were not vetted or regulated eight years later

Keane explained that legal fees took up 10pc of the organisation's budget last year and the percentage was higher in previous years and she said the ongoing consequences of the child sex abuse scandals had made it impossible for Swim Ireland to attract commercial backing.

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 umbrell body for sporting organisations in Ireland -and Ireland Active, an umbrella body for many leisure and fitness organisations.

She was part of the original three-person crisis management committee (CMC) that was set up in the immediate aftermath of Hickey's arrest in Rio.

In an interview with RTE's Saturday Sport, she spoke highly of Pat Hickey, saying: "Pat put an awful lot of work over his lifetime into furthering the Irish Olympic movement and he was also a fantastic ambassador for sport internationally."

Read More: Hickey 'old guard' swept aside as swimming chief takes OCI helm

"I don't think what happened to him and his family is something anybody would condone.

"A criminal process is under way and that needs to be seen through.

"That's what he needs to deal with. From the point of view of those of us who've been on the Olympic Council of Ireland's board, our duty as directors is to work in the best interest of the organisation," she said.

"The Olympic movement in Ireland needs some change. It's been through a very, very tough time and now it needs to move forward. It needs to put the athletes first."

"I always think back to is being on holidays in West Clare during the 1984 Games and staying up late every night with my cousins, all of us watching the Games together. Sport brings people together and Olympic sport is no exception to that."

Irish Independent

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