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OCI Election: Irish Sailing's Colm Barrington Seeks 'Athlete Rather than Official Centred Organisation'

19th January 2017
Sailing's Colm Barrington – In his experience the Olympic Council of Ireland has done nothing to support the efforts of high performance sailors Sailing's Colm Barrington – In his experience the Olympic Council of Ireland has done nothing to support the efforts of high performance sailors Photo: Courtesy Independent.ie

The Irish Sailing Association (ISA) has nominated Colm Barrington (70) as a candidate for 'First Vice President' in February's election of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) Executive Committee. The Irish sailing champion and former Aer Lingus Chairman says he is running 'in support of Sarah Keane's bid to be OCI President and her reform programme'.

The OCI election is shaping up to be a battle between the old guard and those seeking change for an organisation in crisis. For the first time since 1989, long-standing president Pat Hickey will not be running in the election.

Sarah Keane, William O’Brien and Bernard O’Byrne are the candidates who will fight it out for the OCI's top position at next month's meeting.

Barrington, a global aircraft leasing chief, is in no doubt about the work ahead if elected and pulls no punches about the current state of the OCI in the Afloat.ie interview below. His experience is that 'the OCI has done nothing to support the efforts of our high performance sailors'. He also says 'the successes of Annalise and the rest of the team in Rio, and at previous Olympic Games, were despite the OCI and not because of anything they did for us'.

Sailing's sole nomination for the XXXII Olympiad – Tokyo, Japan 2020 executive is running against Irish Taekwondo's Martin Fleming for the First Vice President role.

Barrington, a passionate Irish sports fan, served for 12 years as Chairman of the ISA's Olympic Group stepping down after Rio. He continues to Chair the Irish Sailing Foundation, the Olympic fundraising body for sailing, established by him in 2015.

He maintains Ireland’s success rate at the Olympic Games is not good enough, particularly for a 'sports–mad and relatively well–off nation'. 

Irish Sailing's candidate also says he hopes the terms of office of future OCI officials and Executive Committee members will not exceed eight years.

The election will take place on Thursday, 9th February 2017 at the Conrad Hotel, Dublin. 

Read the interview below

Afloat.ie: What future direction do you think the OCI should go in?

Colm Barrington (CB): I am passionate about sport and, particularly, about achieving international success. Ireland’s success rate at Olympic Games is not good enough, particularly for a sports-mad and relatively well-off nation. In Rio, Ireland’s two medals put us 62nd in the medals table out of the 87 countries that won any medals. The OCI needs to respond to that situation and assist our athletes, their coaches, their families and their federations to be more successful. Olympic success is the best way to promote the Olympic movement in Ireland. The OCI needs to up its game in this regard.

Assistance needs to include helping federations to bring in the right people for both governance and management and to develop high performance programmes with them. It also needs to include providing appropriate logistical and management support at Olympic Games and focusing on maximising financial support that can be passed on to the athletes and their programmes. The OCI must focus on athletes rather than on itself and its officials. Simple changes, such as making Olympic tickets available to athletes and their families, can help the Olympic movement greatly.

While my main objective would be to help make the OCI a truly athlete centred organisation, I would also aim to bring my corporate experience to help institute appropriate governance in line with best international practise. Specifically, I would plan to oversee implementation of the recommendations of the Deloitte Report.

It is also important that the OCI becomes an important part of Irish social life and an influential supporter of the many benefits of Olympic sport in this country. In this regard the performance and results of the OCI and the GAA are poles apart. I would hope to use my relationships at all levels of Irish and international society to help restore the OCI’s reputation and to enhance its profile with commercial sponsors.

What lessons from your successful work as Chair of the ISA's Olympic Group do you think could be useful for the OCI and other Irish Olympic sports?

CB: I am proud to have witnessed Ireland's high performance sailing programme develop from ad hoc talent management into a high performance system which has produced numerous international successes at junior, intermediate and senior levels and, finally, Annalise’s Olympic medal in Rio after her near-miss in London.

In my experience the Olympic Council of Ireland has done nothing to support the efforts of our high performance sailors. The successes of Annalise and the rest of our team in Rio, and at previous Olympic Games, were despite the OCI and not because of anything they did for us. Indeed, at Rio their arrangements for accommodation, transport and accreditations were useless and we had to make our own parallel accommodation and transport arrangements at an additional cost of €70,000. This was a big part of our 2016 budget and has resulted in corresponding cutbacks in other parts of our HP programme. And it was all as a result of the OCI’s unwillingness to respond to our reasonable requests and to focus on what was needed to support our athletes as they tried to achieve success. I assume that they treated other athlete groups in a similar manner.

The OCI needs to help our sporting federations to institute appropriate programmes to support athletes’ ambitions, to help get the right people to run the programmes and to maximize the funding support that is available for our athletes.

Given the recent changes recommended in the Deloitte report do you consider your nomination to be an engine for change?

CB: There are significant changes required in its governance in order to restore the reputation of the OCI and to ensure that it is regarded among the most respected sports organisations in the country. A strong and respected OCI will be of huge benefit to its member federations and is also vital in maximising the potential of Irish high performance athletes on the world stage. I hope that I can help make this happen. There are many recommendations in the Deloitte report, but I hope that one of their main recommendations - that terms of office of OCI officials and Executive Committee members should not exceed eight years - will be taken seriously by the federations and will apply to the upcoming election.

OCI vice-presidents can go forward for nomination to the Presidency every four years. Is this a role you would consider?

CB: I am running for the position of First Vice President in support of Sarah Keane bid to be President and in support of her reform programme. I believe that I can make my best contribution to the OCI and its member federations by helping change the OCI’s focus to an athlete rather than official centred organisation, by improving governance and by creating openness and fairness. I have no aspirations to be President.

Download the OCI's List of Nominations for Election of Officers and Executive below.

Read more about Colm Barrington's role in Irish Olympic sailing in Afloat's pre–Rio interview here.

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