BOA moves to resolve turf war with Irish

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The Independent Online

The Olympic associations of Ireland and Britain have declared a truce in a turf war that threatened to damage London's bid to stage the 2012 Games.

An agreement over which country lays claim to Northern Ireland and its athletes has been struck following the intervention of Barbara Cassani, the chairman of London 2012.

The dispute arose last month when the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) objected to the move by the British Olympic Association (BOA) to include the words "Northern Ireland" in athletes' contracts for this summer's Games in Athens.

Patrick Hickey, Ireland's influential member of the International Olympic Committee, complained that his British counterparts were acting with "colonial attitudes", had "thrown a hand grenade" into Anglo-Irish relations and said that his organisation had jurisdiction over the province.

The ensuing stand-off caused concern at London 2012 as Hickey could be a key ally for their bid because he is reckoned to be a leading figure in the European Olympic movement who could control nine of the 125 votes at the IOC, which is due to choose the 2012 winner next summer.

The Independent understands that the BOA plans to announce on Friday that it has agreed to drop "Northern Ireland" from contracts, which will revert to Team GB, including Scotland and Wales. As part of the move, the BOA would have to shelve any plans to include the province's name on marketing materials such as badges and athletes' kit.

Under the existing arrangements, athletes from Northern Ireland can compete for either country. But Hickey said he feared that changes would weaken the Irish team, which recruits around 20 per cent of its athletes from Northern Ireland.

The BOA stressed that the contracts had been changed for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City and insisted that it wanted to retain the status quo under which Northern Ireland athletes could compete for either country.

The BOA's submission of the new contracts had also caused a headache at the IOC because both Britain and Ireland were claiming Northern Ireland as their territory.

London 2012 said the issue was a matter for the Olympic associations to resolve but it is understood that Cassani had acted as a mediator between Hickey and Craig Reedie, the chairman of the BOA. The BOA declined to comment and the OCI were unavailable for comment.