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O'Byrne letter sparks row as OCI election heats up

Bernard O'Byrne, Willie O'Brien and Sarah Keane
Bernard O'Byrne, Willie O'Brien and Sarah Keane
Basketball Ireland boss Bernard O’Byrne criticised the record of his rivals for OCI president. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A row has broken out between two of the candidates in the race to succeed Pat Hickey as president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI).

The war of words came after Basketball Ireland boss Bernard O'Byrne criticised the record of his rivals for the position, outgoing acting president Willie O'Brien and Swim Ireland chief executive Sarah Keane.

In a letter to the council's 36-member federations, Mr O'Byrne claimed the other candidates belonged to the "old guard" in the OCI.

He claimed neither had pursued reform or effectively questioned the status quo at the OCI during their tenure on the executive committee.

But the criticism was rejected by Mr O'Brien, a 20-year veteran of the OCI, who has acted as president since Mr Hickey's arrest last August as part of a ticket-touting investigation at the Rio Olympics.

Mr O'Brien insisted the OCI "hasn't been resting on its laurels for the past 10 years". Much change had taken place in that time, but this, he said, was not reflected in a damning Deloitte report on corporate governance.

Willie O'Brien. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Willie O'Brien. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Mr O'Brien, who Mr Hickey previously anointed as his successor, also said his intention was to be president for the next four years and to pass on his experience to the incoming committee.

He said at least two-thirds of the committee would be new members following the OCI's extraordinary general meeting on February 9.

"My intention would be to act as a mentor to those, passing on the knowledge that is already there and keeping some sort of continuity going," he said.

While criticising aspects of the Deloitte report, he pledged to implement it, along with other reforms proposed by the International Olympic Committee.

Ms Keane declined to comment on Mr O’Byrne’s criticism. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Ms Keane declined to comment on Mr O’Byrne’s criticism. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Ms Keane, who has been on the OCI executive committee for two years, declined to comment on Mr O'Byrne's criticisms. "I am delighted that so many people are going forward for election. This is a great opportunity for the federations' voices to be heard and I wish everyone the best of luck," she said when contacted by the Irish Independent.

However, a number of sources with knowledge of OCI affairs said it was simply incorrect to call her a member of the "old guard".

She was a member of the OCI's crisis committee in the aftermath of the Rio controversy and is said to have been one of the few outgoing committee members to raise questions during Mr Hickey's tenure.

In the letter which sparked the row, Mr O'Byrne also claimed some sporting federations had met to "carve up" key positions on the committee, something he described as an "undemocratic process" lacking in "openness, transparency and accountability".

Former OCI president Pat Hickey. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Former OCI president Pat Hickey. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Mr O'Brien rejected this criticism, saying it was a normal part of any electoral race.

"That is just part of the process of every election," he said.

Irish Independent

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