Republic of Ireland news

Irish president warns of ‘serious' issues over Rio Olympic games

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina, with sailing silver medalist Annalise Murphy, as they host a reception in Aras an Uachtarain in Dublin for the Irish Olympic Team. Picture by Julian Behal, Maxwell/Press Association  
Michael McHugh, Press Association

SERIOUS doping and administration issues surrounding Ireland's Olympic Games could undermine public confidence, Irish president Michael D Higgins has warned.

The governing Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) has been embroiled in major controversy after its former president Pat Hickey was arrested during a Brazilian police investigation into ticket touting.

Irish boxer Michael O'Reilly tested positive for a banned substance.

President Higgins held a reception for the Irish Olympics team at his Aras an Uachtarain home in Dublin on Sunday.

In the latest blow it has emerged that two boxers have also been investigated over betting at the games.

None of the Irish boxing team attended Sunday's event.

Ireland's other Olympic medallists from Rio, Cork brothers Paul and Gary O'Donovan were also unable to attend.

The pair took silver in the men's lightweight double sculls in Rio and on Saturday Paul followed up the success by taking gold in the men's lightweight single sculls at the World Rowing Championships in Rotterdam. The O'Donovan brothers were set for a heroes welcome when they returned to Cork last night, with a special homecoming event planned in their home town of Skibbereen on Monday evening.

He said: "These Olympic Games have also exposed some serious issues for us, both here in Ireland and amongst the entire Olympic family.

"Issues of doping, alas never far from the Olympic story in recent years, questionable decision-making by referees and judges during the games, and the controversy around the administration of our sports all deserve serious analysis and fearless responses here at home and internationally.

"Each of these issues, if not adequately addressed, has the potential to undermine public confidence in our athletes, in our sporting administration and in the fairness of international sporting competition itself."

Belfast boxer Michael Conlan, fighting for Ireland, said he would never again compete under the AIBA boxing association banner after a controversial defeat at the Rio Olympics.

A number of referees and judges were later removed by the sport's organisers after suspicious results.

President Higgins added: "Sports and the Olympic Games are worth protecting. The games have a history of promoting international co-operation through sport.

"In an age where there is so much division, fear and suspicion between peoples, I believe that the Olympic message of friendship and support, of our common humanity as expressed through sporting endeavour, is more important than ever."

He noted Irish results from the 2016 Olympics surpassed the previous three Games, with 14 top-ten finishes compared to eight in London, and 14 top-twenty finishes compared to six four years ago.

Mr Higgins paid tribute to silver medallist rowers Paul and Gary O'Donovan and sailor Annalise Murphy.

"By the evident passion shown by Irish sportsmen and sportswomen in the past three weeks, by your hard work and years of dedication to achieve excellence and by the pride you so clearly have in representing your country at an international level, simply by getting to Rio and competing as one of the world's best in your discipline, you have succeeded and accomplished great feats."

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