Michael Clifford: Pat Hickey ran Olympic Council like a fiefdom

Families were treated as irritants rather than members of the wider Olympic family, writes Michael Clifford.

Last August, Sara Treacy’s father Liam told of the trouble he had in trying to acquire tickets to see his daughter fulfil a lifetime ambition.

Sara was competing in the 3000m at the Rio Olympics, but her family had to scramble to see her. There was no luck with official agent, Pro10. After repeated calls, a voice told Liam Treacy that there were not many tickets left.

In the end, he had to go through a local route in Brazil to acquire most of the tickets.

The mother of Finn Lynch, who was the youngest member of the Irish sailing team at the games, had similar problems. Grainne Adams told Newstalk last August that she made numerous attempts to contact Pro10.

“I rang and rang and rang every day, several times a day,” she said. “You’d just get straight through to the voicemail and then it would say that voicemail was full.” She eventually went online and got a ticket to her son’s event at a kiosk in Rio.

The experiences of families of other Irish competitors at the games were similar.

It was a shabby way to treat those who had sacrificed and nurtured so that their loved ones could pursue a dream infused with the Corinthian spirit.

Yesterday, on publication of the Moran report into the ticket scandal in Rio, we got a glimpse of why these families were treated as irritants rather than members of the wider Olympic family.

The report compiled by Judge Carroll Moran states that the agent Pro10 “showed more concern for the commercial interests of the ATR (Authorised Ticket Re-seller) than for the interests of the athletes, their friends, relatives and supporters or for those of the spectating public”.

In other words, the imperative for the agent given privileged access to control the flow of tickets was turning a grubby buck rather than contributing to the much vaunted Olympic spirit.

One of the reasons that families found it so difficult to access tickets, according to the report, was that Pro10 was given 128 tickets that had been earmarked for families.

These tickets were effectively redesignated from family tickets to general purpose tickets, which could be sold on. Is it any wonder that the families who contacted Pro10 received a frosty reception? For Pro10, it would now appear, these families were irritants to be brushed aside while the real business of turning a buck was done.

That would be bad enough if the agent was some rogue outfit which weaselled its way into the Olympic cash machine. In fact, the report finds, it was an artificial creation set up with the tacit approval of Pat Hickey, the man who saw himself as the Irish embodiment of the Olympic spirit.

The report provides a narrative of events leading up to the Rio games last summer and the arrest of Hickey and the laying of charges against him by a Brazilian prosecutor.

The inquiry had to be completed without the co-operation of Hickey, the various commercial bodies who were at the centre of the scandal and the International Olympic Committee. As such, we don’t get to the bottom of the whole affair.

No suggestions of financial impropriety were made against Hickey.

What does come through, however, is that Hickey ran the Irish Olympic Council like a fiefdom.

It was through Hickey that THG, the outfit run by British businessman Marcus Evans, won the contract as authorised reseller for the London 2012 games. The fee — $1m — was deposited in the IOC’s bank before the committee formally ratified the deal.

Then, in 2014, when the Rio organising committee decided it didn’t want THG involved in the Rio games because of its reselling practices at the 2014 Rio World Cup in soccer, Hickey had a decision to make.

He could accept the Rio judgment that THG was not fit to be involved in the games, or he could stick by an outfit which his international colleagues wanted shot of. He chose the latter.

The Moran report details how Marcus Evans shared “his thoughts” with Hickey on how to set up another company to act effectively as a buffer between the OCI and THG. That was done with the creation of Pro10, and we now know the outcome.

Honorary general secretary Dermot Henihan told Moran that “we were just happy that someone was giving us a good fee to do this.” While the OCI vice president Willie O’Brien put it differently. “Pat never hid anything. If you asked Pat anything you got the answer.” It might well now be asked as to how much robust inquiry into what was going on was undertaken by Hickey’s fellow committee members.

Moran also questions as to why Hickey was recompensed with an annual honorarium of €60,000 from 2010 onwards.

Despite the constraints under which the judge had to complete his report, the whole tenor is critical of the running of an organisation allegedly dedicated to facilitating athletes in representing their country.

The report points to an organisation which was run like a fiefdom, in which Hickey’s personal relationships with figures like Marcus Evans substituted for proper governance.

After the publication yesterday, Hickey issued a statement saying he was “pleased to see my good name and reputation were cleared”.

He said he was advised by “eminent lawyers in Brazil” as well as in Ireland not to participate in the inquiry pending the outcome of the Brazilian proceedings.

He also claimed that there are “significant inaccuracies” in the report.

To make such a claim, after refusing to have anything to do with the inquiry, might be viewed in some quarters as displaying a neck like a jockey’s nether regions.

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