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The Tokyo Olympics:  An Exciting New Chapter for Irish Olympic Sport


Expert insights from Sarah Keane, President, Olympic Federation of Ireland and CEO, Swim Ireland. This blog has been written exclusively for IoD Ireland members.

As you are reading this at the beginning of July, the first components of Ireland’s largest ever Olympic team will have departed for Tokyo to compete at the Games of the XXXII Olympiad. Over 18 sports, including two team sports, Women’s Hockey and Men’s Rugby 7s, will be represented in a Team Ireland containing over one hundred of our finest female and male athletes, each with their own inspirational story of making it to the Games and, in some cases, we hope, medal glory.

You will know many of them. People like Sanita Puspure, Nicci Daly, Rory McIlroy, Leona Maguire, Ciara Mageean, Kellie Harrington, Shane Lowry, Paul O’Donovan, Natalya Coyle, Thomas Barr, Cian O’Connor, Annalise Murphy and Shane Ryan. But, for each of these household names, there are many more who will catch our attention and enhance their reputations this summer.

Competition starts on Friday, 23rd July, and sections of our team will already be making important final preparations at pre-Games training camps in the vicinity of Tokyo.

It is hugely exciting, but it is also an enormous challenge.

There have never been a postponed Games. Since the foundation of the modern Olympic Games in 1896, only world wars have caused cancellations, in 1916, 1940, and 1944.

Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, and a looming threat of COVID-19 that could strike any of the team at any time, the challenges for the Tokyo host city organisers and for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in running a postponed Games, twelve months after they were originally scheduled, have been immense.

However, the athletes and teams worldwide are immensely grateful for the huge collective efforts that have been made to bring them to fruition. Despite the fact that vaccination and countermeasures will provide some protection, no amount of planning and detail, can protect everyone fully from the threat of a Games-ending positive COVID- 19 diagnosis.

In this scenario, we hope that the Games can become more than just individual effort, but a symbol of our collective resilience, a worldwide response to one of the most challenging periods that many of us have had to endure in living memory.

Team Ireland is an embodiment of modern Ireland, both a collection and a reflection of our finest talent, from every region of the country, each with different backgrounds and different stories that we hope will inspire the next generation as they develop into young adults.

The Olympic Federation of Ireland Vision

The management of a Games is a complex task at the best of times but, in this environment, the responsibilities, particularly the management of risk, are very significant indeed. From a Directors’ perspective, the appointment of good staff, and the creation of the right culture and vision are vitally important at times like this. In high performance sport, just as in business, these critical elements, combined with the right oversight and governance structures, are often the difference between success and failure.

At the Olympic Federation of Ireland, we have put significant resources and time into transforming the organisation, underpinned by the shared vision set out in our 2018-2024 strategic plan. While there has been significant public recognition of this change, embodied through the support of corporate Ireland in our many new sponsorships to help fund our Olympic athletes, there is no doubt that the Games will be hugely influential when it comes to public perception.

And, yet, the changes made to the organisation in recent years as we prepared for these Games are every bit as important and provide a significant foundation for the realisation of our ambitions for Irish sport during the cycles of Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028.

There are several Federation initiatives which will ensure we end this cycle on a sounder footing than what we entered. These include: the creation of a primary and secondary schools outreach programme with our Olympic athletes; the establishment of the Team Ireland Athletes’ Foundation; new sponsor arrangements, such as with FBD Insurance, Indeed, Circle K and, most recently, Deloitte; a transformative partnership with the Sport Ireland Institute for the provision of performance support; and a significant enhancement in our staffing and expertise.

There is great possibility from the fact that we now operate in a well aligned system. This includes the Olympic Federation of Ireland working in tandem with Sport Ireland, and the Sport Ireland Institute. Equally important is an environment where increased Government funding for high performance sport to our national sports federations, will progressively close the gap on our peer country competitors.

As a country, we are proud to be on the world stage. We correctly feel that we have every right to be there – and in so many fields, Irish men and women are representing the country internationally at the very highest levels. We see this in Business, Technology, Pharma, Aviation, Research, Film, Music, and Entertainment. To excel in these areas, we have been agile, and we have invested in talent. The soon to be launched new National High Performance Strategy, and further confirmation of Government commitments to close the gap on competitor nations, means that the Games of Tokyo mark just the start of an exciting chapter for Irish Olympic sport.