Adam Shaw looks at the unexpected and bizarre turn of events for Ireland at the Rio Olympics
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The ticket touting controversy involving Ireland’s most senior Olympic officials is threatening to cast a cloud beyond Rio after Ireland’s Sports Minister suggested the inquiry to be led by a retired judge could even look at ticket sales for London 2012.
Pat Hickey, Europe’s most senior Olympics officials and the former head of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), was arrested in Rio de Janeiro on 17 August amid accusations that he had passed on top level tickets for the 2016 Games to be sold at extortionate rates.
Hickey, 71, who was filmed as he was taken away from his luxury hotel room by Rio police is currently in a Brazilian jail and on Tuesday of this week was due to appear in court.
His arrest follows that of another Irishman, Kevin Mallon, a director at hospitality company THG Sports, on 5 August with tickets bearing the OCI’s name on them. That arrest set into a motion a whole chain of events which threatens to bring serious reputational damage to Ireland and Irish sport whatever the eventual court verdict.
Hickey was originally challenged by Ireland’s sports and Transport Minister Shane Ross to include an independent member on the OCI’s original promised investigation but Ross was unceremoniously snubbed.
Since then the original OCI internal investigation has been abandoned in favour of a non-statutory official inquiry by a retired Irish judge whose name has not yet been released. And these investigations could stretch back to the 2012 London Games as Sports Minister Shane Ross said there would be no limits placed on them. He confirmed that the exact terms of reference for the inquiry would be decided at a meeting with Ireland’s Attorney General Máire Whelan and senior department officials.
Last week it was reported that police in Brazil began their initial investigations into Hickey following a “tip off” in 2012 from the former soccer player turned politician, Romario. He mentioned the former OCI chief on his personal website, on which he expressed concerns about the contract for ticket sales in Ireland for the London Games.
On hearing the news of Hickey’s arrest, the 1994 World Cup winner wrote on social media: “And the ticket mafia gets caught! Well, four years ago I had already told the government.”
Brazilian police launched their widening investigation after they seized more than 1,000 premier tickets for Rio, including those to the opening ceremony. They said that some of the tickets which had a face value of $1,000 were going for more than $8,000. THG Sports was an authorised reseller for tickets at the London Olympics and the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Hickey’s son, Stephen, used to work there while another member of staff was arrested in Brazil over the reselling of 2014 World Cup tickets. In a statement, the company said it “wishes to make clear that it would very much welcome such an inquiry and pledges to provide full cooperation in the strong belief that it can demonstrate that the company has acted lawfully at all times”.
It continued: “THG would like to see that an independent inquiry, under the chair of a respected Irish legal figure, be actioned expeditiously.”
The organisers for Rio 2016 rejected THG’s bid to be an authorised ticket reseller and instead saw Pro 10 Management, a sports management company based in Lucan, Co. Dublin, appointed by the OCI to undertake the role. Pro 10 also released a statement where it said it welcomed the news of an independent, judge-led inquiry.
The OCI said that it would be making no further statement on Hickey and that he is “receiving his own legal advice and is entitled to natural justice and due process.” It confirmed that it will “co-operate fully with a State inquiry and it will now appoint an external independent firm to carry out a review.”
Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, added: “What we know is that [Hickey] has not been heard by a judge yet and, more so, the presumption of innocence prevails.
“We respect the laws and legal procedures here in Brazil and cannot comment further on this.”
On August 21, Brazilian police said that they completed mandates for the search and apprehension of the passports of three members of the OCI.
They are investigating whether Kevin Kilty, Dermot Henihan and Stephen Martin were involved in the illegal sale of tickets for the Games. In spite of confiscating their passports, they added that there was nothing to demonstrate any impropriety on the part of these individuals and that no charges have been brought against them.
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