Sources close to Irish sailor Peter O'Leary have today strongly defended the Corkman at the centre of an Olympic betting controversy, claiming "he's done nothing wrong".

They have said however, that it was a "naive mistake" for the double Olympian to place bets on the outcome of the Beijing Olympics.

Sources close to Mr O'Leary confirmed that the sailor had placed "a number of small bets" in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, at least one of them on the class he would himself be competing in.

But they are adamant that there was no intention to cheat.

"There was a fleet of 15 or 16 boats in Beijing. Peter was a rookie four years ago. He was not competing in the medal race, so he was not in a position to influence the result".

The sources, who did not want to be named, claimed that at the time the bets were placed, Peter O'Leary was not breaking any Olympic rules. "The rules changed about a year ago. In the new athletes' charter there's a new section on gambling that was not there before."

The Olympic Council of Ireland have refused to confirm that Mr O'Leary is the athlete at the centre of the controversy. But the Irish Independent Group has published a letter from Mr O'Leary's lawyers, Ronan Daly Jermyn, saying that the emergence of the allegations 48 hours before the games was designed to cause the "maximum negative impact possible".

Mr O'Leary's total winnings on two successful bets totalled just under €4,000.

Sailing sources have dismissed the issue as "a distraction we don't need", and suggest that the issue has been raised vindictively, in an attempt to sabotage Ireland's Olympic campaign.

O'Leary and his team-mate, David Burrows, are genuine medal contenders, having won the pre-Olympic competition, "Sail For Gold", beating the reigning Olympic gold, silver and bronze medallists. That competition took place on the same Weymouth waters.

The two Olympic veterans were the first Irish sailors into action.