Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications

Olympic Games 2012 and Funding for Sporting Organisations: Discussion

9:30 am

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The purpose of this meeting is a discussion with Mr. Pat Hickey and Mr. William O'Brien of the Olympic Council of Ireland on the 2012 Olympic Games and with Mr. Kieran Mulvey and Mr. John Treacy on the disbursement of funding to sporting organisations. On behalf of the committee, I welcome all of the delegates to the meeting.

Before commencing, I draw the witnesses' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to the committee. If they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular subject and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against an individual or an entity either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it easily identifiable. I advise them also that their submissions and opening statements will be published on the committee's website following this meeting.

I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, make charges against or criticise a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her easily identifiable.

I now invite Mr. Hickey to make his opening statement.

Mr. Pat Hickey:

I welcome that witnesses are now protected by privilege. On each of the three previous occasions I appeared before this committee I complained bitterly about the fact that while Members were protected by privilege, citizens were not.

On the previous occasions on which I appeared before the committee, we, the citizens, had no privilege, whereas members did. I complained bitterly about this on each occasion. I congratulate whoever decided to extend privilege. It is only right that all citizens are treated equally.

I turn to our opening address. The Olympic Council of Ireland, OCI, is the organising committee charged with the authority to enter and send a team to each summer and winter Olympic Games. The OCI is the national Olympic committee governing the island of Ireland and recognised by the International Olympic Committee, IOC, as such. The OCI is a democratically elected body encompassing all Olympic sports and elected every four years by its member federations.

Preparation for every Olympic Games begins early in the four year cycle. The OCI appointed Sonia O'Sullivan, one of our greatest ever athletes, as the chef de missionof the Irish team for the London games. This decision was received enthusiastically by all parties and Sonia immediately began work, supported by our full-time professional administration team and sports director, with the federations and the athletes in preparation for the London games. It was significant to have the experience of such a leader and of great benefit and assistance to all our athletes to have a person of the stature of Sonia O'Sullivan living in the Olympic village with them to assist and advise the team.

It is a rule of the IOC that the torch relay will only travel within the territory of the Olympic committee of the host country. In the case of the London games, this raised a problem in the case of Ireland. The North of Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and a problem arose in relation to the torch relay travelling outside Northern Ireland. After successful lobbying with the IOC and the London organising committee and having regard to the current situation in Ireland, the goodwill between Ireland and the United Kingdom and the success of the Queen's visit to Ireland, permission was granted to bring the torch relay across the Border. It was a unique day - 6 June 2012 - when the torch crossed the Border carried by Wayne McCullough from Belfast - a boxing silver medallist at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games - and Michael Carruth from Dublin - a boxing gold medallist at the same games - together with several hundred schoolchildren from the national schools of Newry and Dundalk. The torch then came to Dublin and was received at the headquarters of the OCI in Howth by President Michael D. Higgins. It then went on a relay through Dublin city and was greeted by the Taoiseach at Government Buildings before ending its journey at a concert in St. Stephen's Green attended by thousands of people. It was a unique day in the country and truly showed how the power of sport could unite.

During the preparatory period for the games the OCI worked in very close collaboration with the Irish Sports Council, ISC, in completing an early stage working agreement which provided for our representation on the high performance advisory and technical committees. In tandem with a representative on the ISC board, this provided the two organisations with a regular communication strand from the top down. This joint approach paid great dividends. I acknowledge the great help and support we received from the ISC and commend the way it is continuing in the current preparations for the next Olympic Games. These are the Winter Olympic Games at Sochi, Russia, in February 2014 and the Summer Olympic Games at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016.

When the qualification process finished, the team consisted of 66 athletes, covering 14 sports, including athletics, badminton, boxing, canoeing, cycling, equestrian, gymnastics, judo, modern pentathlon, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming and triathlon. The athletes were supported by a team of dedicated coaches and support staff to ensure they had all the assistance they required. A top-class medical team was put in place to ensure medical support for the athletes was second to none. On the advice of our chef de mission, Sonia O'Sullivan, it was decided to have a holding, or pre-training, camp. On foot of her great experience, she did not want the young athletes going directly into the Olympic village, which could have had a negative effect on them. She recommended a holding camp be adopted where the athletes were settled in and from which they were gradually moved into the Olympic village. We secured an arrangement with Lensbury, Teddington, and the initiative proved to be a gigantic success. The athletes were extremely happy with the arrangement. There was a significant Irish connection in the use of training grounds at St. Mary's University College, Twickenham, also known as Strawberry Hill, which, during the years, has trained many Irish physical education teachers. We were honoured to receive a visit from the Taoiseach to athletes at the holding camp. He also attended the opening and closing ceremonies, which was a great boost for the team. I reiterate the excellent support received from the ISC in the preparation phase and its financial contribution towards the camp. The Olympic village was top class and the Irish delegation received a great welcome from the officials there. Many volunteers at the village were from Ireland or had Irish heritage, which made it very pleasant for the athletes.

The opening ceremony took place on 27 July 2012 and competition started the same day. The competition finished with the closing ceremony on the evening of Sunday, 12 August 2012. We are happy to inform the committee that the results for Ireland were as follows; Katie Taylor, boxing gold; John Joe Nevin, boxing silver; Paddy Barnes, boxing bronze; Michael Conlan, boxing bronze; Cian O'Connor, equestrian bronze; Rob Heffernan, fourth place, 50 km walking race; Annalise Murphy, fourth place, laser radial sailing; eventing team, fifth place, equestrian; Aoife Clarke, seventh place, individual eventing, equestrian; Natayla Coyle, ninth place, modern pentathlon; Andrez Jezierski, ninth place, C1 200 m, canoeing; Hannah Craig, tenth place, canoe slalom; and David Burrows and Peter O'Leary, tenth place in the star category. In addition, the 4 x 400 women's relay team was ranked 13th, Sanita Puspure was placed 13th in single scull rowing and Martyn Irvine was placed 13th in men's omnium cycling. Further results included Olive Loughnane, 13th, 20 km walk; Joseph Murphy, 14th place, individual eventing, and Matt McGovern and Ryan Seaton, 14th place in the 49er sailing category. Canoeist Eoin Rheinisch and Derval O'Rourke made their respective semi finals and were ranked 14th and 15th, respectively. This was the best ever performance of any Olympic team since Ireland first entered the Olympic Games at Paris in 1924.

We congratulate the London organising committee under Lord Sebastian Coe who is a great friend of Ireland and helped us in every way possible. The organisation of the games was top class and it was one of the best Olympic Games ever. The competition was helped considerably by the great support of the British public as volunteers and fans of sport who thronged to all venues ensuring athletes from around the world received tremendous support.

That concludes the brief presentation from the OCI. We will be very happy to answer questions members of the committee may have.

9:35 am

Mr. Kieran Mulvey:

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for giving us the opportunity to address them. As Mr. Hickey has indicated, I address the committee following a very successful Olympic Games for Ireland and its athletes. This has been our first opportunity to address the committee since the end of the last Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Irish Sports Council was established in 1999. One of its statutory obligations was the development of high performance sport in Ireland. Among the critical mechanisms for the review of our performance are the outcomes of Olympic Games and other international championships. Following previous competitions, the council completed, for example, the Sydney review, the Athens review and the Beijing review, respectively. Each of the review documents, while distinct, shares the traits of being honest, collaborative and ambitious.

They set out ambitious targets for our planning period. This is done in co-operation with the national governing bodies, the Olympic Council of Ireland and the Paralympic Council. I should also mention the director of the Institute of Sport, Mr. Gary Keegan, who is with us this morning, and Mr. Paul McDermott, who will be taking over as director of high performance sport. Regrettably, we lost our high performance director, Finbarr Kirwan, since the Olympics. He was poached by the US Olympic Council, which is evidence of the high calibre and performance of the Irish Sports Council and its staff. I pay particular tribute to Mr. Kirwan and wish Mr. McDermot success in his new role. Mr. Kirwan's departure is another country's advantage.

The key metric in high performance is the number of medals or podium places achieved across all supported programmes. In the four years up to Athens, Ireland achieved 54 medals, in the Beijing cycle we achieved 70 medals and in the London cycle we achieved an extraordinary 163 medals. These included 61 medals in 2012 at European, World, Olympic and Paralympic level. Our success has continued into 2013, particularly in boxing, equestrian sports and sailing. I hope we will also enjoy success in athletics in Moscow. Our swimmers will be competing later in July and we hope to see new talent emerge in that context. These successes are due to the performance of extraordinary Irish athletes in a multiplicity of disciplines.

Prior to the Olympic Games, the council set a target of nine finalists or the equivalent thereof and three medals for the Olympic team. The final outcome for Irish athletes in London was five medals and 14 top ten finishes. This equals Ireland's best ever medal total and was a significant improvement on previous Olympic Games. Ireland placed 41st on the medal table rankings, compared to 61st in Beijing. Overall, Team Ireland produced 27 top 16 performances in London, compared to 19 in Beijing. This, however, was eclipsed by the extraordinary performance of our Paralympic athletes in London. The council set a target of five medals for the Paralympic team, with a possibility of three golds. The final outcome for Irish athletes in London was 16 medals, of which eight were gold. Ireland finished 19th on the medal table rankings.

This performance represents an excellent return on the taxpayer's investment in Irish sport, which investment was made at considerable cost given the difficulties with the public finances during the period in question. As chairman of the Sports Council, I am very conscious of the need for governance in accounting for public moneys. Since becoming chairman, I have insisted on publishing all the council's spending in every discipline and activity annually so that the public is fully aware who gets how much and for what purpose and taxpayers can be fully conversant with our bang for their euro.

Over the past several years a relative peace has descended on the sporting community. We now have a collaborative community. I am always conscious in making such statements that a row may break out somewhere tomorrow to disprove what I say but I hope peace will continue to reign. We have an extraordinarily positive relationship with our colleagues on the Olympic Council of Ireland. I would like to take this opportunity to note the other success we enjoyed in London in Mr. Pat Hickey's election to the executive committee of the International Olympics Council. He follows in the steps of Lord Killanin and I wish him every success. I thank Senator Eamonn Coghlan for his work with the council and as chair of the high performance committee. He agreed to continue chairing the committee after his election to the Seanad to facilitate a smooth transition into 2012.

We also have a good working relationship with our political masters, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ring. Both individuals have taken to their portfolios with enthusiasm and learned new things about new games, as I have as chairman. We could not have a more enthusiastic supporter of everything Irish on the international stage than the Minister of State, who is an inspirational figure wherever he addresses our athletes and sportspeople. I thank the Government and the people of Ireland for recognising the success of Irish sportspeople in the various receptions given in Farmleigh. Our President has acted likewise in Áras an Uachtaráin. Even though the sports budget has suffered some cutbacks in the past several years in line with all agencies and Departments, we appreciate that the Government and the Oireachtas has kept to a minimum the cuts to the sports budget. We can manage with this level of funding and while we would obviously like more, we will have to wait for better times.

That the value we offer for the taxpayer's money is reflected on the international stage does not mean national and local sports are ignored. Sometimes, however, the benchmark is based on international competitions. We all feel pride when the tricolour is raised for our athletes on the podium. With a bit of luck, we could have achieved an additional two or three medals but that was not to be. I am glad to say the athletes have decided to prepare for the Rio Olympics and we have decided to continue funding them.

I will now hand over to Mr. John Treacy, a silver Olympian and chief executive of the council.

9:45 am

Mr. John Treacy:

The high performance system is delivering improved results due to a number of factors. Our identified or targeted sports national governing bodies are capable of delivering sustained and repeated success at international level. Each sport has a dedicated high performance function which is led by a performance director. The Irish Sports Council's high performance unit provides support to the sport. Funding is in two major blocks, performance planning and international carding scheme. The Institute of Sport, which is an operational unit of the council, provides high quality services to sports and athletes.

There is an all-island dimension to this in that we work closely with our counterparts in Sport Northern Ireland the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland. A number of our sports are pursued on an all-island basis and Olympians who compete for Ireland can receive dual funding from both bodies. We have also established operational agreements and functioning working groups with the Olympic Council of Ireland and Paralympics Ireland.

A high performance committee provides strategic overview of this system. Senator Eamonn Coghlan chaired this committee throughout the London cycle and I thank him for his outstanding contribution. Funding decisions are taken by the board of the Irish Sports Council.

The council uses four key mechanisms to improve the system.

All investment and activity in high-performance sport is based on the fundamental ethical foundation of clean sport. The Irish Sports Council operates the Irish sport anti-doping programme and is very proud that it is acknowledged as one of the best in the world. This reputation is hard-earned and should give reassurance to the sports family and wider community of the integrity of Irish athletes.

The first mechanism is the performance planning system. The designated high-performance sports, such as athletics, boxing and sailing, receive funding to implement their performance plans. These plans, devised and implemented by each sport's performance director, are agreed with the Irish Sports Council and the Irish Institute of Sport and, if it applies, with Sport Northern Ireland. They are detailed and technical documents which set out the full range of activities in the area of high performance in a given year across all disciplines and age ranges. To date, 16 sports bodies have been allocated €5.5 million to support their performance plans in 2013.

The second mechanism is the international carding scheme, which is the mechanism of direct funding to athletes. Funding is allocated across a number of sports under various categories based on agreed performance criteria. This direct funding allows athletes train and compete at the highest level required on the international stage. In 2013, 86 athletes will receive funding totalling €1.7 million.

Third, the Irish Institute of Sport provides sports science and medicine services to high-performance athletes and sports. Based at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, the institute develops performance systems, provides science and medical support and is actively engaged in the development of the people engaged in high-performance sport in Ireland. This is critical to ensuring Irish athletes do not have to leave the country but can get the best services here in Ireland. We believe the institute made a major contribution in the last four years and will continue to drive improvements in the Irish system. In 2012 the institute delivered more than 2,000 hours of direct service to 166 athletes from 18 sports and provided more than 10,000 hours in the field working with athletes, coaches and national governing bodies.

Fourth, the council supports the work of the Olympic Council of Ireland and Paralympics Ireland. In 2013 the two bodies receive grants of €412,000 and €910,000 respectively. Above and beyond that, the working relationship between the agencies, as Mr. Mulvey and Mr. Hickey said, has never been better. Paralympics Ireland is not present today, but I acknowledge the excellence of its work in the preparation of its athletes for London 2012. It has been observed that the London games brought Paralympic sport into the mainstream and it has taken up a permanent place in the affections of the Irish public. We hope and believe that is true. Paralympics Ireland, both administrators and athletes, make a major contribution to the development of the global movement and we are very proud of that achievement.

London 2012 was the culmination of many years' work. The team exceeded the long-term targets set for Ireland. Everyone involved was delighted at the standard of performance, not just by the outstanding medal winners but by all the team. It was the best organised Olympic team and that was apparent before, during and after the games. One of the most important issues impacting athletes is how they handle the transition to a regular lifestyle after competing at a high level. This has emerged as major issue for athletes in Ireland, and elsewhere, and has an impact on their performance in sport and, importantly, on their well being in life after sport. The athlete performance transition programme was a major initiative developed by the institute that was launched before the London Games. It was designed to support athletes through the process of qualification, competing and returning from the games. The programme provided post-games support to over 70 Olympic and Paralympic athletes. This included individual and group debriefing, workshops, medical checks and referrals, performance planning and, very importantly, career planning. Many athletes benefitted from the programme and, in our view, it represents a significant advance on what was available in the past.

We are keenly aware of the risks of operating in a four year cycle. Work commenced in 2011 on planning for 2016 so that there would be a seamless transition into the next cycle. There were three key components to that project. First, a new performance planning template was devised. Second, a fundamental review of the international scheme was undertaken. Third, there was a wide-ranging debrief of all the sports that participated in London 2012.

The new performance planning system is in place. It is robust and looks to the medium and long term. The new system sets out plans up to Rio 2016 which has many benefits. Not least, the sports are not involved in a constant exercise of annual planning but can instead look to the long term. By its nature high-performance sport is highly selective and must be which can deliver success. However, it is also open to sports that can devise a compelling plan that can demonstrate potential to compete at Olympic level. The Irish Rugby Football Union, IRFU, plan for women's sevens is an example, and we are working with them in an interesting project to qualify for Rio.

A fundamental root and branch review of the international carding scheme took place. Publication of the review took place in the autumn. The council is committed to the full implementation of the recommendations of the review and that process has commenced. The 2013 scheme was considerably changed from previous editions. The concept of direct athlete funding is retained. However, it will be a more targeted scheme. Crucially, and consistent with the philosophy of a sport-led, performance director-led system, the scheme will transfer to the direct management of the individual sports over time.

The official Debrief from 2012 Olympic Games was published earlier this year. It was prepared by UK consultants on behalf of the Irish Sports Council. It carried out individual debriefs for each of the 15 national governing bodies involved. Some 122 people across the 15 sports were interviewed in the process. It was a very elaborate consultation process. The Olympic Council of Ireland was included in the consultation. Paralympics Ireland carried out its own debrief.

The debrief states that the overall performance in London by the key Irish team was a marked improvement on recent Olympic Games. There is a broad consensus that the development and management of performance sport has improved substantially in recent years and in particular since the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Of particular note were greater sophistication in planning, increased quality of service support and stronger relationships between all the agencies. It was also highlighted that pre-games preparation work improved substantially. Athletes consistently identified the pre-games training camp as having a direct and positive impact on performance. I congratulate the Olympic Council of Ireland for organising that because it was a splendid camp.

The debriefs provide a series of recommendations, both generic for the system and individually for each sport. Again, there is a commitment to the implementation of those recommendations which serve as an operational plan for the next cycle. Clearly, there is a lot of change under way. The system is moving away from an individual athlete and coach funding system. The focus is on a performance director-led system. There has been no rest since London and everyone in the system is working hard to continue to build a sport system that delivers sustainable and repeatable success for Ireland.

Since London 2012 we have witnessed a series of outstanding performances. Many good things are happening in Irish sport. The work requires substantial investment. The support of the committee in securing that investment is greatly appreciated. As we can see, Irish sport delivers a big return on taxpayers' money.

9:55 am

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I thank all the witnesses for a comprehensive report. It is good to hear things are ticking over very well. I have questions, but first I will call the lead spokespersons followed by individual members, in batches of three. I call Deputy Dooley.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the two presentations. I am pleased both groups are here together and, as Mr. Mulvey said, there is peace and harmony across the sporting organisations. Mr. Hickey referred to the note that privilege was in place. There was a time when I would have loved if privilege had been in place because I would have loved to have heard some of the undercurrents that existed. That time has passed and it is good that we can almost look back in a jocose way and recognise the tremendous changes that have taken place, the positive impact that prevails and the success. We can congratulate both groups for their input into the most recent success at the London Olympic Games and wish them well in their continued endeavours. This committee covers so much, concentrating on matters of transport, tourism, communications and natural resources, and often our role in sporting activity and endeavour is put to the side to some extent.

With Senator Eamonn Coghlan on the committee, we have been dragged back to focus on it because sport has such a positive impact - which the representatives know well from their work but which is often lost on us and on society generally - on individual participants, entertainment and health promotion. Our role is about how we can continue to support the various bodies as opposed to telling them what to do. I am not qualified to do that. What more as legislators can we do to assist them in the work they undertake to encourage greater participation, enhance sporting activity and ensure the various federations succeed in attracting more participants?

At the end of the day, Mr. Mulvey referred to value for taxpayers' money and the work done in this regard and he stated the cuts have not been as deep. This is right because of the impact of sport on people's lives. What are the representatives views on sponsorship and advertising by the drinks industry? We are preparing a report on this issue and it is timely that they are before us. I am interested in their views on that.

10:05 am

Mr. Kieran Mulvey:

With regard to what legislators can do, it is vitally important, as the Deputy said, that they take an active interest in this area because sometimes those who are involved suffer from feeling they are unique and there is something special about it; there is not. Ireland participates in a multiplicity of sports at many levels internationally. We have our own sports, which are part of our history, but, internationally, we are required as a country to put out teams and individual athletes and they have to be fully prepared. That requires facilities, training, resources and the capacity to achieve that. The ISC, OCI and Paralympics Ireland are attempting to achieve that by co-operation internationally and I am delighted that we are working in that regard, which is vitally important.

Legislators can be of particular assistance in ensuring as best they can that our budgets are protected. I would love to ask them to increase them but I am as realistic as the next person to know that will not be a possibility for the next two or three years but at least they should be protected at the current level because we are close to critical mass. We have been able over the past number of years to retain the funding for the NGBs, particularly the smaller bodies, but that means we have had to cut the larger ones substantially, including Special Olympics Ireland, the FAI, IRFU and GAA. The large field sports have taken a substantive hit to protect them. We have managed to work that out with them by engaging directly in extensive discussions rather than announcing the cuts. They are living with that but any further cut would begin to eat into these organisations and, therefore, we ask members to become advocates on behalf of sport.

The initiative Senator Coghlan has taken regarding physical education in schools is vital. I hear everybody talking about essential parts of the curriculum but if the youth are not captured by sport, they are lost forever. As we are aware from other social problems in our society, we have to ensure, given young people are captive audiences for nine to ten months of the year at all levels of the education system, the curriculum on physical education is promoted and is transferred across other curricular issues.

The other issue in the context of legislation is the protection of sports. As Mr. Treacy said and Mr. Hickey emphasised, we have to have clean sport. It must be free of any attempt to influence it by any form of drug taking. Second, that position must be represented internationally, as Ministers do at WADA and, third, it must be ensured minority sports are protected and supported because of traditions in this country. We have to ensure that not only individual athletes, but team sports are protected to sustain a hockey or a women's rugby team, for example, to ensure we achieve more team sports in international competition. The big challenge for us at the moment is to sustain 11, 15 or 20 people in participation over three or four years through whatever funding is made available. We just narrowly lost in both men's and women's hockey this year. It was terrible to watch the last puck of the game in Belfield. We need teams sports at the Olympics. It creates a team spirit and atmosphere around participation.

I do not wish to pass a slippery ball but on drinks I will offer a personal view, as we are only in initial discussions about this. I said at the launch of our annual report last year that there has to be a mature, reasonable debate around the drinks industry sponsorship of sport. Ireland is in a precarious situation. We do not have the same high level participation, budgets or private or philanthropic endowment that other larger nations can obtain. If we withdraw drinks sponsorship immediately without a transition, we will destroy some of our international teams. I am not being over dramatic about it and I am not making an issue of it. My office is on Haddington Road and the Aviva stadium and the RDS are beside it. There has been no trouble as a result of alcohol consumption after any of the matches I have attended in Croke Park or other stadia. However, I have witnessed people lingering long after concerts in the RDS. Why separate one element of our national activity from another? We have to be cautious about this. Alcoholism in this country is not about sport or sports sponsorship; it is a deeper societal issue. It affects our young people in primary, secondary school and universities. It is also an issue relating to communities. This has been an issue for this country for 200 years since we first brewed or distilled alcohol. It should not all be laid on sport. If we withdraw drinks sponsorship of sports in one fell swoop, the State will not replace the money lost by the IRFU, FAI and other sporting organisations unless it doubles or trebles the budget.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I would like to intervene because I would like everyone to have the opportunity to air their opinions. The protocol is the lead spokespersons will get individual responses and then we will take batches of members but we are under time constraints. Would Mr. Treacy like to comment?

Mr. John Treacy:

With regard to alcohol sponsorship, a number of other issues need to be examined, including pricing and availability of alcohol and promotion of alcohol in colleges where alcohol companies give money away. These are critical issues that need to be examined. There needs to be consultation with sporting organisation on drinks sponsorship. If €30 million is taken out of the sports budget, given our budget is €42 million, it will have a major impact on some sports. All of us have been spoiled watching all our great rugby players playing for Irish clubs.

If this money is taken out of the Irish system we will not be able to compete to keep the players in Ireland. This would be a factor and it would have an impact. These issues need to be discussed and debated and we need to look at what the consequences of this action would be.

10:15 am

Mr. Pat Hickey:

To answer Deputy Dooley's questions on what the committee can do, I concur with my colleague, Mr. Mulvey. It is fantastic for us to have people like the Chairman and Senator Coghlan, who knows his sport inside out, on the committee who can help in every way behind the scenes. We have a very good record in general with all politicians and the previous Minister with responsibility for sport, Mr. John O'Donoghue, was excellent, as are the current Minister and Minister of State. We only have a problem every now and again when a Minister comes along who does not respect independent and democratically elected bodies which are separate from the Ministry. They were the old days. Mr. John O'Donoghue was a superb Minister with responsibility for sport and the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, are doing a superb job and have helped us in a thorough way in the preparation for London. It was incredible. Two weeks ago in Brussels I had the great honour of being at a luncheon with the Irish Presidency.

With regard to alcohol, I agree with what Mr. Mulvey and Mr. Treacy stated. The committee may not know the International Olympic Committee is the only sports organisation in the world which does not have an alcohol sponsor. We do not take wine, beer or hard liquor. Not one sponsor at any Olympic Games has anything to do with alcohol.

I wish to make a personal remark which is important for the politicians here. It was an absolute disgrace to read a report last week of an international multinational company, Diageo, attacking the Irish Government and the Irish State regarding how it should conduct its business and investment. It is not the role of a multinational to direct elected Members of Dáil Éireann and tell them what to do. This multinational has no interest whatsoever in Ireland, except that it happens to have a product beginning with "G" which is promoted in Irish pubs throughout the world to get bigger profits. The Government should not accept this type of carry on from a multinational.

Photo of Eamonn CoghlanEamonn Coghlan (Independent)
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I welcome the witnesses. It is unusual for me to be sitting on the other side of the fence as a Member of the Oireachtas, which I am very honoured to be, as opposed to being invited before the committee. Mr. Tracey and Mr. Mulvey alluded to the fact I was chair of the high performance committee in the Irish Sports Council for the Olympic cycle leading up to London. In recent years, long since I retired from sport, the transformation in support for Irish sport has been incredible, with funds available for all athletes since 1999 when the Irish Sports Council became a statutory body, the support mechanism for athletes and the development of the Irish Institute of Sport under the leadership of Mr. Gary Keegan. The transformation has been amazing.

Having been chair of the high-performance committee it is awkward for me to raise issues regarding the Olympic Games, because today we are reviewing them and not necessarily discussing alcohol in sport. Ireland certainly punches above its weight when it comes not only to Olympic sports but also sports such as golf and rugby. We are all very proud of what our sports men and women achieve. Looking back at the London Olympic Games now, numerous people have said to me that if we strip out the gold, silver and two bronze medals we won in boxing and the bronze medal won by Cian O'Connor, who only came in at the last minute, the performance of the Irish Olympic team was poor for the amount of money spent during the four-year cycle leading up to the London Olympic Games. What are the views of the witnesses on such comments, which have been put to me since the London Olympic Games when everybody was saying how great the performance was? I know how hard it is to make the Olympic Games and how difficult it is to get it right on the one particular day.

I would also like to investigate whether we are considered a Third World nation when it comes to sport and the Olympic Games? If so why did some athletes who qualified and were taken care of financially for a four-year period and were either injured or sick go to the Olympic Games where they performed very poorly? Some of the injured athletes could have been replaced because others had qualified. Why was this not taken care of leading into the London Olympic Games?

Another area, which is a bone of contention between Mr. Hickey and myself, is regarding B standard athletes who are not selected. If we are a Third World nation with regard to Olympic sports, and other such nations throughout the world are allowed to send athletes who do not get an A or even a B standard, why did we not send three young athletes who were seven hundredths of a second out? Perhaps had they been selected with the B standard they would have performed better than those who competed with A standard qualifications. If the mission of the Olympic Council of Ireland is to develop the Olympic movement in Ireland and to encourage the development of high-performance sports why are these young athletes, who are on the threshold of breaking through, not considered for the Olympic Games?

My final question is directed to Mr. Hickey. The Chairman made reference to accountability. The Irish Sport Council accounts for every penny spent. What funding does the Olympic Council of Ireland receive from the Irish taxpayer and what percentage is this of the overall budget? What is the breakdown of the funding it receives from the taxpayer and how is it spent?

Mr. John Treacy:

I will answer the questions on performance. Boxing is part of Team Ireland when it comes to the Olympic Games and considerable investment has been made in it. We certainly have had a fantastic return from our boxers. In athletics we had a fourth place finish, and Senator Coghlan and myself realise more than anyone else that track and field events are truly global sports and extremely difficult. A total of 220 countries compete in track and field events and if we come out with finalists we are doing extremely well from an Irish perspective. We had two fourth place finishes and six other top ten finishes. Robbie Heffernan finished fourth in athletics. In equestrian sport, Cian O'Connor received a fantastic medal in individual show-jumping. I am delighted to say the show-jumping team has gone from strength to strength and competed extremely well in the Nations Cup this year.

The eventing team was placed fifth overall, which is an outstanding achievement. It is a world class team. Ms Aoife Clark finished seventh in the Olympic Games. Ms Lisa Kearney, a young judo fighter, got into the last 16 in the world. It was a world class performance.

The modern pentathlon was not on the radar four years ago. We work closely with those involved. They have a good performance manager. Ms Natalya Coyle finished ninth in the modern pentathlon in London, which was a truly outstanding performance.

Everyone was on the edge of the seat throughout the first week of the Olympic Games because of sailing. Ms Annalise Murphy did an outstanding job winning races. Sailing is a marathon event, in that one's 12 best races are taken into account. The only thing that stopped Ms Murphy from getting a medal was a little bit of inexperience. Another couple of boats were in the top ten.

These were some of our outstanding results. Without a shadow of a doubt, the tide is lifting in terms of high performance sport in Ireland. We are getting a good return on our investment. We are coming along in leaps and bounds as regards Olympic sports. The review agreed that there had been outstanding achievements since Beijing. Senator Coghlan has been playing the devil's advocate to a large degree. Compared with four years ago, though, we have broadened our sporting horizons considerably.

Golf will be included in the next Olympics. I hope that Ireland will have some world class golfers at the games. I also hope that we will have a women's sevens team and a women's hockey team. Sometimes, just qualifying for the Olympics is a fantastic achievement. Whenever we have someone in the top 15 or 16 in the world, it is a magnificent achievement for a country with a population of 4.5 million.

10:25 am

Photo of Eamonn CoghlanEamonn Coghlan (Independent)
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The public asks me about the millions of euro invested in the Irish sports people who compete at the highest level of the Olympic Games. If one strips away the boxing medals, finishing 15th, 13th or even fourth is not acceptable for that kind of money.

Mr. John Treacy:

We want to encourage Irish athletes to compete internationally. If one is in the top 15 or 16 in the world, one is a world class performer and needs to be supported so that one can live and reach the right competitions. If we do not have people at that level trying to make their way into the top ten or top three, we will never have anyone at the top. We must look after our athletes at international, developmental and junior levels so that they can make the transition. First time out, one can make the top 16. Second time out, one can make the top ten. Everyone is looking for one of those career opportunities. The Olympic Games only come around once every four years. A tennis player or a golfer gets four majors per year. One only gets a shot at the Olympics every four years. It is a high-risk investment in terms of getting medals in return, but these athletes have also won medals at European and world levels.

Mr. Pat Hickey:

Mr. Treacy has addressed Senator Coghlan's first question comprehensively. I echo his comments. We are not a Third World country. Some 205 countries participated in London and Ireland ended up in 41st place, a remarkable record for a country with such a small population. Often, my peers abroad are amazed at our success. Mr. Treacy answered the questions on performance comprehensively.

I wish to address the question on B standards. For those members who do not know, there is a qualification standard for the Olympic Games. Of the 28 sports, track and field and swimming athletes can qualify the easiest. All other sports have a brutal, draconian qualification process. The wonderful Judo fighter about whom Mr. Treacy referred only had two chances to qualify - she needed to win a medal at the European or world championship. It is even worse for gymnasts. They must win silver or gold medals at the world championships.

We decided that B standards were not good enough for the Olympic Games. I did not make it. Rather, the greatest athlete in Ireland, Ms Sonia O'Sullivan, made it in conjunction with silver medalist, Mr. Treacy. These are our two supreme Olympic athletes. Having examined the situation, they decided that the place for B athletes was at the world track and field championships and the European championships. The Olympic Games are the real deal. It is not for youth or for people who might do well the next time. Let them go to the world championships. We were happy to receive the full support of the Irish Sports Council and Athletics Ireland, the federation that runs the sport, for our decision.

Regarding accountability and finances, we are a company limited by a company guarantee. We are an entity that must produce accounts every year and send them to the companies office. They are open for inspection at all times by the public. We are also examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General. We have passed all examinations with flying colours. I do not have a set of accounts with me, but I will send one to the Chairman for distribution. Off the top of my head, 20% of our total turnover in four years was taxpayers' money, which we received through the Irish Sports Council. We raised the rest ourselves. We have never received a query about our accounts.

Photo of Michael ColreavyMichael Colreavy (Sligo-North Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome our guests and thank them for attending. Everyone, particularly politicians, asks whether he or she is making a difference. In terms of sport, I will give an example. I attended a busy and popular county agricultural show. It was during one of last summer's bad days, but 60,000 or 70,000 people were in attendance. There was a boxing match in the afternoon and a few large screens were located about the place. We did not need an announcement over the PA system. Just before the match was about to start, silence descended. It was uncanny. This is the difference that good athletes and good sporting bodies can make to the mood of a nation and the individuals within. I hope that all of our athletes, including our Paralympic athletes, understand the difference they can make and the pride they can give a nation during hard times.

In terms of governance, we are fortunate in that in Senator Eamonn Coghlan - the delegates will forgive the pun - we have an inside track. Legislators are busy people in terms of the number of things with which they must deal. It is vitally important we are constantly reminded of the importance of sports and that we do what is right by our athletes from school to high performance level.

I have a number of questions for the delegates. We are aware of the choppy waters experienced by the organisations over the past number of years. We are only now beginning to ensure athletes are given the supports they require to perform to the best of their ability, and have a responsibility to do this. Is there scope for better co-operation between the organisations and athletes North and South? The delegates might elaborate on any ongoing work in this regard. Is there any particular country to which we should be looking in terms of management of sporting organisations and athletes? Is there a gold standard nation in this regard? I am speaking in this regard not about investment per athlete, but about structural supports and so on. Is there a gold standard nation to which we should aspire? Are we doing enough to encourage young school going children to set higher targets for themselves and their schools? Is there more we could be doing to energise our young people and get them involved in sports in Ireland?

10:35 am

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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As a number of questions have been asked, I ask the delegates to give only brief responses. Members can follow up with them after the meeting if they need to.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey:

As regards whether politicians are making a difference, in my opinion, they are, in particular in terms of the provision of funding. While we would welcome more funding, significant funding is currently being provided. The revitalisation of the capital programme this year made a big difference. If that were to become an annual rather than tri-annual or quadruple event, it would be good because our facilities need to be maintained. Tremendous developments are taking place at Sports Campus Ireland in Abbotstown. It is hoped this will result in the development of world-class facilities. The indoor track at the facility in Athlone was also recently developed. The development and provision of facilities is an area on which ourselves and our Northern Ireland counterparts can co-operate. There is no point in our developing a velodrome if one is being developed in the North and in our replicating its development of international standard indoor facilities. It is easier to travel to the North of Ireland than it is to the UK, Spain, Portugal and so on. To a large degree, our co-operation is very cemented. I was recently on the interview board in Northern Ireland in regard to the appointment of the new chief executive. There is good dynamic with Northern Ireland in terms of co-operation.

Reference was made to gold standard nations. Years ago, Australia, which won everything but has since fallen behind, was considered a gold standard nation. Ireland is now being viewed as a gold standard nation in terms of the level of participation by Irish athletes and the number of medals being won. As I said earlier, our director was, unfortunately, poached by the US, which is a tribute in its own right to the standards we are achieving. Part of the Olympic debrief was to consider what other countries were doing and achieving.

One area in which we have a major lacuna in terms of high performance is talent identification. We need to look at how to identify the young sixth class student or second level first year student who is a potentially good performing individual rather than a collective athlete such as those mentioned earlier who are individual extraordinary achievers in the own sports. We must ensure we have sufficient funding to target exceptional talent in our schools. These students could be identified by our physical education teachers or national governing bodies. We must identify, mentor, protect and encourage talent. We do not yet have a system in place to do this.

As chairman of the Irish Sports Council I believe indigenous Irish companies should be funding the council. They should be willing to provide €50,000 to €100,000, which are not unreasonable amounts, to fund sports. Reference was made earlier to Diageo. I am speaking of indigenous Irish companies who are multinationals that are making huge profits. It is hoped that with tax reliefs they might give €100,000 to €250,000 to the Irish Sports Council for talent identification. When these companies are successful they should identify with our success. We need to be able to bring athletes forward, cocoon them and provide them with the best performance opportunities and good facilities. We must also meet the needs of individual's requiring the attention of high performance directors or coaches. This costs money and requires long-term commitment. It is what we need to do. Currently, we are only identifying talent at 14 or 15 years of age, which is almost too late. I call on Irish companies that are successful internationally and have no baggage to fund sports development. I am speaking in this regard of clean industries such as the agrifood, services and financial industries.

Mr. John Treacy:

A number of sports operate on an all-Ireland basis. We agree one plan for the Sports Council of Northern Ireland and the Irish Sports Council. This means there is one funding stream. There is real co-operation in terms of some of our high performance athletes on a North-South basis.

The gold standard was mentioned. The council constantly looks to what other countries are doing, from which it takes the best ideas. The gold standard is around the people involved in high performance. We have excellent performance directors and coaches who are funded by the system. Also, the institute of sport is constantly developing. The council's high performance unit is also developing. Gold standard status is about people and what is happening in terms of coaching in Ireland. This is about investment in people and then trying to keep them in the country. Other countries have in the past tried to steal our best coaches. However, we have managed to retain them in the country.

With regard to school sports, the big issue is philosophy around PE in primary schools. While the current PE curriculum is good, sufficient time is not being provided for it. One hour per week is not enough. Children need to engage in PE at least three or four times a week. Demand for this must come from parents. Physical education is an investment in children's health and well-being for life. We need to ensure this is underlined. On the spirit of the nation, I will remember for the remainder of my life Katie Taylor's winning of the gold medal. In terms of the spirit of the nation having been lifted during the Olympic Games, that is the picture that was taken home last summer.

It was fantastic.

10:45 am

Mr. Pat Hickey:

I will be very brief as I know the committee has time limitations. My two colleagues have expressed everything that has to be said but I agree totally with Deputy Colreavy. The Irish public just wants to see success and they do not care what sport it is, and if the flag is flying and the national anthem is playing, they are absolutely thrilled. I was privileged to be in the London stadium handing the medal to Katie Taylor and it was the most emotional experience of my life. I saw the wonderful joy and happiness in Ireland, despite the recession, and long may that joy continue.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Three members wish to speak and I will have a couple of questions as well. I ask the members to keep comments to two minutes, if possible, and I know Senator Mooney has to get to the Seanad.

Photo of Ann PhelanAnn Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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I come from Kilkenny and I could not let the morning pass without speaking about the remarkable athlete, Darren O'Neill. He comes from a club I have watched grow over the years and although I do not want to put a dampener on things, it has achieved its heights by default rather than design. I want to know that we are really supporting all these boxing clubs throughout Ireland. They have a social inclusion policy and there is a large number of teenage girls in the club in Paulstown, County Kilkenny. It does marvellous work and I am sure there must be much talent there for future Olympic Games; if we are spotting talent, I invite anybody to see what we have.

How high on the agenda is social inclusion policy or is it just a paper exercise for many clubs in order to draw grant assistance? How is the effectiveness of the local sports partnerships measured? Are they really achieving what they were set up to do?

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I endorse the welcome from my colleagues. I have a bit of an inside track as I have been a sports journalist for most of my working life. I have been at an Olympics, and I saw John Treacy at the 1980 games. That resonated yesterday with the passing of Mr. Tim O'Connor, a former head of television sport who was very instrumental in getting RTE to focus on many sports during his period there. God rest him. As a former voluntary coach in the community games, I am intimately knowledgeable of the sacrifices that people make at all ages and levels, and I do not want my remarks to in any way be disrespectful to those who have tried and continue to strive for greatness.

Nevertheless, I share Senator Coghlan's view and Mr. Hickey put that in context. Irish people want to see medals and flags and they do not really care from what sport that comes. People would see me, Mr. Treacy and others identified with sport and we might attract comments that the athletics level of performance at the Olympics left much to be desired. I do not know why that is because it receives massive funding and support. There seems to be something inherently wrong, so is it related to a lack of proper coaching? I am asking the question because I do not know the answer.

There is commentary suggesting that because of our small size and limited resources, we are punching way above our weight in so-called minority sports. Mr. Hickey comes from a judo background and he quite rightly noted the outstanding achievement of that young girl in the sport. I remember covering the sport at the Olympics when I worked in the area and along with the modern pentathlon it was a minority sport. People brought an amount of commitment, energy and enthusiasm to the sport even before these achievements. Is there a case to be made for the Irish Sports Council and the Olympic Council of Ireland rebalancing and refocusing their view, giving more support to the so-called minority sports? We can break down where we won and made other achievements while stripping the gloss from the process; the witnesses are coming here to put the best possible spin on the Olympic achievements. Senator Coghlan indicated we should "strip it down" and it is clear that it is primarily in minority sports that we have seen success and are achieving world standards. We are not doing it in track and field.

Do the witnesses believe there is a need to rebalance and focus more on the minority sports where we seem to be getting a greater return? The excitement was not just about Katie Taylor and I will always remember the achievement of Annalise Murphy. It symbolised the potential of a small country in a minority sport and it captured the spirit of the Olympics. I knew nothing about sailing and most people watching did not know about it either. That was an extraordinary television experience.

I also want to ask about boxing. It seems unacceptable that one of the best boxing coaches in the world did not have a contract with his own governing body. Is his future still uncertain or has the matter been resolved? There are recommendations in the debriefing arguing that there seems to be allegations of interference. For example, the review indicates that staff appointed to the high performance programme, HPP, are engaged by, accountable and report to the performance director, and this process is not subject to interference or overrule by Irish Amateur Boxing Association, IABA, members or committees. That is an extraordinary indictment of the IABA administration as this is one of our most successful sports in our Olympic participation and yet that line must go into a debriefing report. I would be grateful for the comments of the witnesses in that regard and if it has not been sorted, is there a role for them in getting it sorted so that we do not have uncertainty surrounding the achievement of the boxers, which has continued in the recent European championships?

Mr. Treacy made a point about co-operation between North and South. How long will the position continue of the Northern Ireland Sports Council providing high-performance money along with the body from the Republic of Ireland? The maximum is the same, at €40,000, for both areas but an athlete based in the North can get €80,000 but one based in the South only gets €40,000. That is unfair so is there a way of sorting it out?

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I echo the welcome given to the witnesses and officials. It was a strong presentation and I congratulate everybody on the success achieved, particularly in increasing the medal count at the London Olympics. It is an account of the public money spent in the process, and there is a clear correlation between investment and results that cannot be ignored.

The question has been asked as to what this committee and politicians can do. Over millennia, governments, emperors and other rulers have all recognised the value that sport has and linked it to political successes in many cases. That has gone on in modern times behind the Iron Curtain, and there has even been government interference in the selection of some athletes. There is anecdotal evidence of such links between government and sport.

The model we have is quite effective, as we take an "active interest", to use Mr. Mulvey's phrase, but we do not intervene. We let those who know what they are doing work away and we support them. We are obliged to scrutinise the performance of athletes that have been publicly funded, and that is a role of this committee. It is satisfying to see an increase in medals and better positions being achieved in major championships and the Olympics in particular.

However, not once have I heard anything about the personal bests that athletes really hold onto as an identifiable way of measuring progress. When I watch athletes perform and see a PB appear after their name when they achieve a result, that is deeply satisfying, but we have no measure here of how many personal bests were achieved over the last cycle by athletes, particularly those in track and field. We can be dazzled by medals, but, as Senator Coghlan mentioned, when one strips away the boxing it is a little more modest. The real measure of how athletes progress - certainly my measure - or of the effectiveness of the funding is the attainment of personal bests and progression in that regard. That applies to other sports. It shows how athletes are improving, and I do not get an idea of that in the witnesses' testimony to the committee this morning. How can we get those figures as part of our scrutiny?

Finally, I will mention something equally important. The investment the taxpayer puts into sport could be greater, in my opinion, and it would be great if we could get better results. Is there a way to measure this internationally? Is there a country with a federation or committee that does similar work or has a similar structure or template to ours which could define, to over-simplify it, a cost per medal, cost per win or cost per progression or PB?

10:55 am

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I am sorry, but I must attend a vote in the Seanad. I mean no disrespect.

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Whether we are talking about Irish records or European, championship or world records, whether they are national meets or international, there is a bigger picture in scrutinising performance. All we have is a headline on the medal count, but I believe we are obliged to dig deeper and see how the funding is performing.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I have a couple of questions too. I thank the representatives for their very positive report. I was present when the Taoiseach opened the National Sports Campus in Abbottstown. The GAA has announced a big investment there since then, so there is much good news.

It was mentioned that Senator Coghlan was playing devil's advocate. What are some of the difficulties and challenges the witnesses are facing? The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, appeared before the committee some time ago and I asked him a question about Swim Ireland and the governance of Irish sport. I thank John Treacy for replying to me about that. I wish to expand a little and follow up on Senator Mooney's question regarding governance of sport in Ireland. Is Mr. Treacy happy with it? He mentioned the boxing situation. I presume this is part of the brief of the Irish Sports Council and that he is aware of the tensions within the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, IABA. The success is fantastic and we cannot afford to let it slip, but there appear to be issues there. Have they been resolved? The director of boxing sacked the ladies' coaching team that was put in place recently. I think that happened with youth teams as well. Obviously there are very strict lines defining people's roles. Have those issues been resolved?

To move on to some of the other issues, are there any rowers or coaches of international standard in Rowing Ireland at present? As a follow-up to the question on Swim Ireland - sometimes these matters are highlighted in the media, so this is a welcome opportunity for the witnesses to deal with them once and for all - I understand that Swim Ireland sacked its Limerick coach without any type of post-Olympic review or without speaking to the coach or the athletes he coached after the Olympics. I also understand that Cycling Ireland has disbanded all of its track teams. Are there issues with the governance or administration of sports that require funding to be targeted in a better way?

Mr. Pat Hickey:

Most of the questions are addressed to the Irish Sports Council so I will answer the ones for me and leave the rest to my colleagues. Deputy Phelan's question is definitely for the sports council.

Senator Mooney spoke about sacrifices at all levels and about minority sports. Everybody knows I have been speaking on the minority sports theme for 20 years. We must identify the sports in which we can win medals and in which there is the least competition at the Olympic Games. That is how one wins medals. I have been advocating for years that we should be considering judo, wrestling and modern pentathlon. That is starting to happen. The results in modern pentathlon and judo in London were superb, and the Sports Council now has the same thinking as us on that. On the boxing, that is to do with contractual relationships with the Irish Sports Council.

Deputy Harrington spoke strongly about the need for public scrutiny once taxpayers' money is involved. It is important for everybody here to know that there are only two volunteers in this room, myself and William O'Brien. We do not receive any salary from the OCI, the taxpayer or any other source. We are volunteers, as is every member of the Olympic Council of Ireland, and we do not take a cent of taxpayers' money for salaries or the like. It is important that the committee knows that.

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Just to clarify, I was speaking about the athletes' performance and progression, and how we can measure athletes' performance outside the medal count.

Mr. Pat Hickey:

I am about to deal with that, especially the scrutiny of personal bests. There were many personal bests in London. I referred to them earlier and so did the Sports Council. We can give the committee the targets. I absolutely agree with the Deputy. If an athlete is selected to go to the Olympic Games, we expect him or her to achieve at least a personal best. It is a huge disappointment for us when an athlete does not achieve a personal best.

The Chairman asked about the governance of boxing. He also asked about rowing, swimming and cycling. The bodies concerned are autonomous; they are run and controlled by themselves and they elect their own officials. They interact with the Irish Sports Council with regard to finance, so I will leave those questions to its representatives.

Mr. John Treacy:

Thank you for that. Rugby is not even an Olympic sport yet.

I will try to answer some of the questions. With regard to clubs, the Irish Sports Council does not have a relationship with clubs at local level. The sports capital programme is run by the Department and it supports clubs at local level. Hopefully, it will be run again shortly, because it is a huge support. Clubs in disadvantaged or socially deprived areas and working with people who are socially deprived have an advantage in terms of making applications. We are happy with that.

The local sports partnerships throughout the country are doing excellent work. I met with them yesterday and we were given a very good briefing on what they are doing.

We will evaluate each of the partnerships on a county-by-county basis to see if we get real value for money.

I wish to pay a compliment to the local sports partnerships, the committees and to the people who volunteer to sit on those boards. They do a lot of work in communities and encourage people to participate and get active.

The London Olympics was disappointing in terms of athletics. Mr. Robbie Heffernan had a great Olympics and was placed fourth in the 50 km walk and ninth in 20 km walk. My colleague, Mr. Pat Hickey, may not like me for saying so but athletics forms the centre piece of the Olympic Games.

11:05 am

Mr. Pat Hickey:

I agree.

Mr. John Treacy:

It is extremely hard to win medals in Olympic track and field events and we must be realistic about what we can achieve. When Senator Eamonn Coghlan and I competed at distance running we did not have to compete with hundreds of Kenyan and Ethiopian runners. Racing is very competitive nowadays. Since the Olympic Games Ms Fionnuala Britton has won a gold medal at the European Cross-Country Championships and she was a member of the Irish women's team who won a silver medal at the event. That is a fantastic achievement. We need to look at the bigger picture for athletics. I am not here to defend athletes because they can defend themselves. The Irish Sports Council financially supports athletes and there is great talent coming through the system.

Corporate governance in sports was mentioned which included boxing. After the Olympic Games, priority was given to finalising the contracts for boxing coaches between the Irish Amateur Boxing Association and the Irish Sports Council. We also worked closely with the IABA to ensure that the medal winners remained in the amateur sport. We must face more challenges from the world body that controls professional boxing. These are the types of issues that we and the IABA will work on over the next number of months. We will work closely with the IABA to ensure that Ireland's athletes are best placed to qualify people for the next Olympic Games.

The council has heard the same stories of interference with coaching by Billy Walsh. That is unacceptable. We support the world class work done by the high performance unit. Such issues would not arise if clear job descriptions were given.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Have the issues been resolved?

Mr. John Treacy:

The IABA and Billy Walsh will discuss the issues again shortly. Sports governance is ongoing. The council gives corporate governance training to governing bodies of sport. We have hired a consultant to train the IABA board in the next couple of weeks. The IABA sought such training and that is welcome.

We have some very good junior and developmental people in rowing. The rowers did not achieve their targets for the London Olympic Games. As a consequence their funding was cut a little but they took it on the chin.

Swim Ireland made mistakes with the Olympic Games, particularly one swimmer who fell ill. It must ensure that its performance director is kept well informed. It appointed a new coach at the National University of Limerick. That is a step forward but improvements must be led by the performance director.

Cycling Ireland won a gold medal in 2013. Mr. Martyn Irvine won a gold medal for indoor track cycling at the World Championship in 2013 and he also won a medal in 2013. That is progress.

The ISC, along with Mr. Pat Hickey, will ensure that the committee receives our press releases. As the committee will know, we support minority sports and will continue to do so. If a sport like modern pentathlon emerged then we are well positioned to provide support.

The Irish Sports Council has included the dual funding provision by our carding scheme and Sport Northern Ireland in its report. We will work closely with Sport Northern Ireland to overcome the issue.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Perhaps Mr. Treacy has answered my question. Did he just refer to athletes who receive dual funding?

Mr. John Treacy:

I spoke about Sport Northern Ireland and athletes from Northern Ireland.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I shall repeat Senator Mooney's question. Is it true that an athlete in the South will receive a maximum of €40,000?

Mr. John Treacy:


Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Is it €80,000 if an athlete is in the North?

Mr. John Treacy:

Sport Northern Ireland contributes as well. We need to ensure that we address the issue. Sport Northern Ireland has hired a new chief executive.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey:

Sport Northern Ireland has a new chief executive and chairman. I have held meetings with them in the past month. I was on the interview board for the appointment of the new chief executive. We have raised with Sport Northern Ireland the issue of cementing our discussions. Sport Northern Ireland also has a remit for capital programmes, which we do not. This situation may be addressed in the new legislation. We need to have a discussion about the duplication and sharing of facilities. As Mr. Treacy indicated, perhaps large projects could have matching funding arrangements for shared facilities, as is the case in other circumstances under the Good Friday Agreement. That would be important.

Swim Ireland undertook its own debrief and extensive review. We must compliment its chief executive, Ms Sarah Keane, on doing an excellent job in bringing Swim Ireland from where it was – racked with scandal and controversy – to where it is now, a more fit for purpose organisation. As Mr. Treacy stated, there was a particular problem with a swimmer in London stemming from the late development of an illness. Perhaps a more sensible decision should have been taken, but everyone is back in shape now.

Rowing Ireland has a national rowing facility in Cork. Irish rowers earned an international reputation 20 years ago. How do we further develop the sport? Britain has identified rowing as a sport where it can win almost all of the medals. Ireland has a strong tradition in rowing and rowing clubs affiliated to Rowing Ireland will help us to develop it further.

I shall comment on boxing. Perhaps it stems from my earlier working life but I am always conscious of third party interference in contracts or agreed contracts. The Irish Sports Council plays an oversight role in terms of sports governance. Therefore, it must ensure that everything is done properly and that performance directors are appointed properly, protected when appointed and allowed to get on with his or her job. Sometimes, this requires sensitive and delicate handling with national governing bodies, NGBs. This takes more time in some organisations, a number of which have been mentioned at this meeting.

We must be careful, we must show sensitivity when working with these bodies. However, if we are unhappy about governance issues then the bodies must address them because we provide funding. The Oireachtas has delegated responsibility to the Irish Sports Council to ensure that happens. As chairman of the council, I have taken a strong line with all of the national governing bodies. I have urged them to take proper account of contracts, appointments, dispersal of moneys and the accompanying accountability. All of the governing bodies then can interact when it comes to operational issues.

I share Deputy Ann Phelan's view about social inclusion, particularly for boxing. Social inclusion is an issue that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have in common.

Obviously, the funding we have for women in sport must be addressed. In light of Katie Taylor's excellent success and the inspiration she has given, there is no point in encouraging women to come into the sport of amateur boxing and not allowing funding for them. At the moment, we just fund the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, IABA, but there is no separate fund for women in sport unless it is targeted within the grant. It is an area that can be explored. Other issues have been occupying our minds in regard to the IABA and ensuring Billy Walsh is given the appropriate authority, independence and freedom to ensure our best boxers represent us internationally.

11:15 am

Mr. Pat Hickey:

The Olympic Council of Ireland funds a number of athletes directly. We do so in consultation with the Irish Sports Council to ensure there is no overlap. We do it from our resources, mainly in minority sports to ensure they are assisted. We must also think of other young Irish athletes, our winter sports athletes. The mandate of the Olympic Council of Ireland is to represent all athletes, irrespective of their sport. We will have a team of six to ten young athletes going to compete in the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in Russia next February. In the committee's deliberations, it should not forget our winter athletes. They are as important as our summer athletes.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Before we wind up, I ask Mr. Hickey for a comment on the homecoming in the aftermath of the Olympics last year, when there were wonderful performances. As someone who has been involved and who knows the need for the athletes to meet their people at home, I am interested in Mr. Hickey's views. Over that weekend, the story became the homecoming rather than the celebration. Could it be done differently? Was Mr. Hickey happy with it and what can be done better?

Mr. Pat Hickey:

One is never happy and there was adverse media coverage. The item was generated by a section of the media. Sometime sections of the media are unhappy if we have success and they were looking for a story, but the story went out of control. Our chef de mission, Sonia O'Sullivan, consulted a group of athletes and their families. When they arrive at Dublin Airport, most athletes want to disappear into the bosom of the family. There was already a big celebration planned in Bray for Katie Taylor and she did not want to hang around Dublin Airport or the city centre. John Joe Nevin had a function organised in Mullingar and the two Belfast boxers were rushing back to Belfast to attend a function. We thought we should let the boxing medal winners and non-medal winners disappear and have their celebrations.. They had been away for a long period. Before we travel anywhere in the future, we will say what will happen and everyone will know in advance.

There was only good news, no bad news, at the Olympic Games from the Irish team's point of view, so some story had to emerge. Members of the Dáil also suffer from bad publicity. That is the way it goes and we must take it on the chin. Sonia O'Sullivan did her best as our chef de mission and we supported her. She did a wonderful job and nothing should take away from the job she did.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I thank the witnesses for the way in which they have presented to us and answered questions. It is important we thoroughly examine this matter because by doing so and by everyone challenging themselves, we can only get better. I wish the witnesses the very best of luck in managing and governing Irish sport.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.05 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 26 June 2013.