| 11.9°C Dublin

O'Leary steers into contention for a medal as betting scandal swells around him

AS the story broke, it looked as if Peter O'Leary hadn't a prow to lean on. The medal hopes of Ireland's sailing team appeared to be damaged below the waterline.

And, the knock-on emotional impact on O'Leary's girlfriend, Derval O'Rourke, and the star hurdler's chances of glory were also impossible to calculate.

But Corkman O'Leary and his team-mate, David Burrows, are made of stern stuff. On Sunday they weathered the media storm and put themselves in silver medal position in the men's keelboat class with two impressive performances in windy Weymouth.

They were less impressive yesterday with a 14th-place finish in race three, and fifth position in race four, to leave them in fifth place overall and still well poised to challenge for medals.

"Just got the wrong side of everything really in the first race," explained Burrows later. "So we're kind of happy to have pulled something back in the second. There's still a lot to play for.

"It's the south course next which will be a little further out to sea.

"The breeze will probably be behaving a little differently, but we're looking forward to it."


There's a long way to go in both this competition and the controversy that has blown up around O'Leary with allegations that he bet on a rival competitor to win a regatta at the Beijing Olympics four years ago.

In showbusiness, there's an expression that's as old as song and dance itself: "Where there's a hit, there's a writ." In O'Leary's case, the second telling question raised by this unfortunate matter is why the person who made the allegation waited four years to air their grievance? Why wait until the eve of this crucial global competition to launch a probe which could have been aired and dealt with at any point since 2008?

It's not simply because it's a seafaring sport that the word "fishy" springs to mind. Clearly, as suggested by O'Leary's lawyers Ronan Daly Jermyn, the dropping of this, as yet unsubstantiated bombshell on the eve of the sportsman's opening competition appears designed to cause "maximum negative impact".

While this is a complex matter with many knotty legal niceties to be untangled, there has been a wave of support for O'Leary.

In 2006, the International Olympic Committee amended an existing Code of Ethics to include the prohibition of gambling.

Since then, other sports, including cricket and football, have been tarnished by high-profile, big-money betting syndicate scandals.


By comparison, the allegations levelled at O'Leary seem small fry. But in sport, as in jurisprudence, the law must be seen to take its course.

So despite his potential medal-winning status and reputation, O'Leary will be hauled over the coals and have to defend these allegations.

Following Sunday's second-place performance, the Irish Sailing Association's Performance Director, James O'Callaghan, said: "It was a solid performance by Peter and David in testing conditions in a hugely competitive fleet. It's very early days but it's great to see that the guys have settled down quickly."

With the International Olympic Committee in conversation with the Olympic Council of Ireland regarding the allegations against O'Leary, the duo will need to draw on huge reserves of concentration and mental strength to weather this storm.

In the meantime, the ISA have their support structure in place to help keep O'Leary and Burrows performing at the peak of their ability. And, given that the duo beat the current Olympic gold, silver and bronze medal holders in a recent pre-Olympic sailing competition in Weymouth, it's all to play for.

Except now in O'Leary's case there's more than a gold medal at stake.