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Ireland at the Olympics
Ireland at the Olympics

A team representing Ireland has competed at the Summer Olympic Games since 1924, and at the Winter Olympic Games since 1992. The Olympic Federation of Ireland (OCI) was formed in 1922[1] during the provisional administration prior to the formal establishment of the Irish Free State. The OCI affiliated to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in time for the Paris games.[1] There has been controversy over whether the team represents the Republic of Ireland or the entire island of Ireland, which comprises both the Republic and Northern Ireland.[2]

Medal tables


List of medallists


The following tables include medals won by athletes on OCI teams. All medals have been won at Summer Games. Ireland's best result at the Winter Games has been fourth, by Clifton Wrottesley in the Men's Skeleton at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. Some athletes have won medals representing other countries, which are not included on these tables.[3]

Art competitions were held from 1912 to 1948. Irish entries first appeared in 1924, when they won two medals; a third was won in the 1948 competition.

Before independence


Prior to 1922, Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Competitors at earlier Games born and living in Ireland are thus counted as British in Olympic statistics. At early Olympics, Irish-born athletes won numerous medals for the United States, notably the "Irish Whales" in throwing events.

The Irish Amateur Athletic Association was invited to the inaugural International Olympic Committee meeting in 1894, and may have been invited to the 1896 games; it has also been claimed the Gaelic Athletic Association was invited.[15] In the event, neither participated.[15] Prior to the 1906 Intercalated Games, National Olympic Committees (NOCs) were generally non-existent and athletes could enter the Olympics individually. John Pius Boland, who came first in two tennis events in 1896, is now listed as "IRL/GBR";[1][16] Boland's daughter later claimed that he had objected when the Union Jack was raised to mark his triumph, and that the organisers apologised for not having an Irish flag.[17] Kevin MacCarthy is sceptical of this story, though by 1906 Boland was crediting his medals to "Ireland".[17]

Tom Kiely, who won the "all-around" athletics competition at the 1904 Olympics in St Louis is also listed as competing for "Great Britain". [18] He had raised funds in counties Tipperary and Waterford to travel independently and compete for Ireland.[2] Frank Zarnowski does not regard the 1904 event as part of the Olympic competition, and doubts the story that Kiely had refused offers by both the English Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) and the New York Athletic Club to pay his fare so he could compete for them.[2][19] Peter Lovesey disagrees with Zarnowski.[20] It

The British Olympic Association (BOA) was formed in 1905, and Irish athletes were accredited to the BOA team from the 1906 Games onwards. Whereas Pierre de Coubertin recognised teams from Bohemia and Finland separately from their respective imperial powers, Austria and Russia, he was unwilling to make a similar distinction for Ireland, either because it lacked a National Olympic Committee, or for fear of offending Britain.[21] At the 1906 Games, Peter O'Connor and Con Leahy objected when the British flag was raised at their victory ceremony, and raised a green Irish flag in defiance of the organisers.[1][22]

At the 1908 Games in London, there were multiple BOA entries in several team events, including two representing Ireland. In the hockey tournament, the Irish team finished second, behind England and ahead of Scotland and Wales. The Irish polo team finished joint second in the three-team tournament, despite losing to one of two English teams in its only match.

At the 1912 Olympics, and despite objections from other countries, the BOA entered three teams in the cycling events, one from each of the separate English, Scottish and Irish governing bodies for the sport.[23] The Irish team came 11th in the team time trial.[23] The organisers had proposed a similar division in the football tournament, but the BOA demurred.[24]

A 1913 list of 35 countries to be invited to the 1916 Olympics included Ireland separately from Great Britain; similarly Finland and Hungary were to be separate from Russia and Austria, although Bohemia was not listed.[25] A newspaper report of the 1914 Olympic Congress says it endorsed a controversial German Olympic Committee proposal that "now—contrary to the hitherto existing practice—only political nations may participate as teams in the Olympic Games", with the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" among these "political nations".[26] In the event, the games were cancelled due to the First World War.

After the war, John J. Keane attempted to unite various sports associations under an Irish Olympic Committee.[27] Many sports had rival bodies, one Unionist and affiliated to a United Kingdom parent, the other Republican and opposed to any link with Great Britain. Keane proposed that a separate Irish delegation, marching under the Union Flag, should participate at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp.[27] At the time the Irish War of Independence was under way, and the IOC rejected Keane's proposal, pending the settlement of the underlying political situation.[27]

Political issues


The OCI has always used the name "Ireland", and has claimed to represent the entire island of Ireland, even though Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom.[28] These points have been contentious, particularly from the 1930s to the 1950s in athletics, and until the 1970s in cycling.[2]

The governing bodies in Ireland of many sports had been established prior to the 1922 partition, and most have remained as single all-island bodies since then. Recognition of the Irish border was politically contentious and unpopular with Irish nationalists. The National Athletic and Cycling Association (Ireland), or NACA(I), was formed in 1922 by the merger of rival all-island associations, and affiliated to both the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) and Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).[2] When Northern Ireland athletes were selected for the 1928 games, the possibility was raised of using an "all-Ireland banner" as the team flag, rather than the Irish tricolour which unionists disavowed.[30] J. J. Keane stated that it was too late to change the flag registered with the IOC, but was hopeful that the coat of arms of Ireland would be adopted afterwards.[29]

In 1925, some Northern Ireland athletics clubs left NACA and in 1930 formed the Northern Ireland AAA, which later formed the British Athletic Federation (BAF) with the English and Scottish AAAs.[2] The BAF then replaced the (English) AAA as Britain's member of the IAAF, and moved that all members should be delimited by political boundaries.[2] This was not agreed in time for the 1932 Summer Olympics —at which two NACA(I) athletes won gold medals for Ireland— but was agreed at the IAAF's 1934 congress.[2] The NACA(I) refused to comply and was suspended in 1935, thus missing the 1936 Berlin Olympics.[2] The OCI decided to boycott the Games completely in protest.[2][31]

The UCI likewise suspended the NACA(I) for refusing to confine itself to the Free State. The athletics and cycling wings of the NACA(I) split into two all-island bodies, and separate Free-State bodies split from each and secured affiliation to the IAAF and UCI. These splits were not fully resolved until the 1990s. The "partitionist" Amateur Athletic Union of Éire (AAUE) affiliated to the IAAF, but the all-Ireland NACA(I) remained affiliated to the OCI. The IOC allowed AAUÉ athletes to compete for Ireland at the 1948 Olympics, but the rest of the OCI delegation shunned them.[2] At that games, two swimmers from Northern Ireland were prevented from competing in the OCI team. This was a FINA ruling rather than an IOC rule; Danny Taylor from Belfast was allowed by FISA to compete in the rowing.[2] The entire swimming squad withdrew,[32] but the rest of the team competed.[33]

Some athletes born in what had become the Republic continued to compete for the British team.[2] In 1952, new IOC President Avery Brundage and new OCI delegate Lord Killanin agreed that people from Northern Ireland would in future be allowed to compete in any sport on the OCI team.[2][34] In Irish nationality law, birth in Northern Ireland grants an entitlement similar to birth within the Republic itself. In 1956, Killanin stated that both the OCI and the BOA "quite rightly" judged eligibility based on citizenship laws.[35] UCI and IAAF affiliated bodies were subsequently affiliated to the OCI, thus regularising the position of Irish competitors in those sports at the Olympics. Members of the all-Ireland National Cycling Association (NCA) with Irish Republican sympathies twice interfered with the Olympic road race in protest against the UCI-affiliated Irish Cycling Federation (ICF). In 1956, three members caused a 13-minute delay at the start.[36] Seven were arrested in 1972; three had delayed the start[37] and the other four joined mid-race to ambush ICF competitor Noel Taggart, causing a minor pileup.[38] This happened days after the murders of Israeli athletes and at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland; the negative publicity helped precipitate an end to the NCA–ICF feud.[39]

The Irish Hockey Union joined the OCI in 1949,[40] and the Ireland team in non-Olympic competitions is selected on an all-island basis.[41] Until 1992 the IHU was not invited to the Olympic hockey tournament,[41] while Northern Irish hockey players like Stephen Martin played on the British Olympic men's team.[41] In 1992, invitation was replaced by an Olympic qualifying tournament, which the IHU/IHA has entered, despite some opposition from Northern Irish members.[41] Northern Irish players can play for Ireland or Britain, and can switch affiliation subject to International Hockey Federation clearance.[42] The Irish Ladies Hockey Union has entered the Olympics since 1984, and in 1980 suspended Northern Irish players who elected to play for the British women's team.[41]

Through to the 1960s, Ireland was represented in showjumping only by members of the Irish Army Equitation School, as the all-island civilian equestrian governing body was unwilling to compete under the Republic's flag and anthem.[43]

In November 2003, the OCI discovered that the British Olympic Association (BOA) had been using Northern Ireland in the text of its "Team Members Agreement" document since the 2002 Games.[44] Its objection was made public in January 2004. The BOA responded that "Unbeknown to each other both the OCI and BOA have constitutions approved by the IOC acknowledging territorial responsibility for Northern Ireland", the BOA constitution dating from 1981.[44] OCI president Pat Hickey claimed the IOC's copy of the BOA constitution had "question marks" against mentions of Northern Ireland (and Gibraltar);[45] an IOC spokesperson said "Through an error we have given both national Olympic committees rights over the same area."[46] The 2012 Games host was to be selected in July 2004 and so, to prevent the dispute harming the London bid, its director Barbara Cassani and the Blair government secured agreement by which Northern Ireland was removed from BOA documents and marketing materials.[47][34] Northern Ireland athletes retain the right to compete for Britain.[34]

In October 2004, Lord McIntosh of Haringey told the House of Lords:[48]

By contrast, OCI officers Pat Hickey and Dermot Sherlock told an Oireachtas committee in 2008:[49]

Hickey also said:[49]

In 2012, Stephen Martin, who has been an executive at both the OCI and the BOA, said "Team GB is a brand name. Just like Team Ireland. The British and Irish Olympic committees are seen by the International Olympic Committees as having joint rights over Northern Ireland."[50]

In 2009, rugby sevens was added to the Olympic programme starting in 2016. While World Rugby states players from Northern Ireland are eligible to compete on the Great Britain team,[51] the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) director of rugby said in 2011 that "with the agreement of the [English, Scottish, and Welsh] unions" the "de facto position" was that Northern Ireland players must represent an IRFU team.[52] In 2010 The Daily Telegraph opined that the IRFU would be entitled to refuse to release players under contract to it, but not to prohibit Northern Ireland players based outside Ireland; but that the issue needed to be handled "with extreme sensitivity".[53]

The OCI sees itself as representing the island rather than the state, and hence uses the name "Ireland".[2] It changed its own name from "Irish Olympic Council" to "Olympic Council of Ireland" in 1952 to reinforce this point.[2] At the time, Lord Killanin had become OCI President and delegate to the IOC, and was trying to reverse the IOC's policy of referring to the OCI's team by using an appellation of the state rather than the island. While the name "Ireland" had been unproblematic at the 1924 and 1928 Games, after 1930, the IOC sometimes used "Irish Free State". IOC President Henri de Baillet-Latour supported the principle of delimitation by political borders.[2] At the 1932 Games, Eoin O'Duffy persuaded the Organisers to switch from "Irish Free State" to "Ireland" shortly before the Opening Ceremony.[2] After the 1937 Constitution took effect, the IOC switched to "Eire"; this conformed to British practice, although within the state so designated the use of "Eire" soon became deprecated. At the opening ceremony of the 1948 Summer Olympics, teams marched in alphabetical order of their country's name in English; the OCI team was told to move from the I's to the E's.[2] After the Republic of Ireland Act came into effect in 1949, British policy was to use "Republic of Ireland" rather than "Eire". In 1951, the IOC made the same switch at its Vienna conference, after IOC member Lord Burghley had consulted the British Foreign Office.[54] An OCI request to change this to "Ireland" was rejected in 1952.[55] The name "Ireland" was accepted just before the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.[2][35] The OCI had argued that this was the name in the state's own Constitution, and that all the OCI's affiliated sports except the Football Association of Ireland were all-island bodies.[35]

See also


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