More confusing than boxing judges decisions, more complex than the rules of synchronised swimming, and more bizarre than BMXers competing at the Olympics, one could be forgiven for struggling to follow Ireland’s Rio Games ticket touting scandal.
Company accounts, international arrest warrants for a multi-millionaire football club owner, separate investigations on two continents and a simmering row between a Government politician and — in sporting circles at least — the most political official of them all, mean what is happening right now is far less clear cut than the result of an Usain Bolt 100 metres race.
However, while it is frustrating, this complexity is exactly why the multi-million euro controversy threatening to over-shadow the four-yearly celebration of world sport is so necessary to follow to the end what is increasingly looking more like a nail-biting marathon than a short-lived sprint.
Beneath the confusion and layers of files being thrown back and forth in media reports right now, three investigations are key to resolving the growing controversy surrounding issues far away from the Rio track.
And while it may be frustrating for genuine sports lovers, the inquiries from Brazilian police, Irish politicians and the Olympic Council of Ireland itself are essential to ensuring transparency in Irish and foreign sporting circles for genuine fans.
The starting gun for what is now a full-blown crisis began when it emerged last week that Irish man Kevin James Mallon had been arrested in Rio while in possession of 781 hospitality tickets which were intended for the Olympic Council of Ireland to give to the families of athletes and other individuals.
Mr Mallon, a director of sports hospitality firm THG, was placed in custody due to a 2010 Brazilian law against ticket touting and the re-selling of tickets for substantial price mark-ups which is punishable in Brazil with a six-month-to-two year jail sentence.
Despite insisting his innocence, Mr Mallon was accused by Rio authorities of being part of a decade-long global conspiracy to make large sums of money off major sporting events through black market sales.
However, he insists he was only in possession of the tickets to help a smaller Irish firm Pro10 — which was licensed by the Olympics authorities to re-sell tickets in Rio for face value, despite only being registered as a company in May 2015.
He added his company THG — which had been explicitly warned by Rio authorities before Pro10 was registered in Ireland last year that it did not have a licence to sell tickets at the Games — was simply in Brazil to sell hospitality packages to Olympics fans.
Brazil police — which noted at a press conference on Monday that they had previously arrested the chief executive of THG James Sinton in 2014 before the football world cup, claiming he was part of a “ticketing mafia” — did not and do not believe the position.
They said the hospitality packages position has been used as “camouflage” to allow for significant price-hikes on re-sold tickets without officially breaking Brazilian law.
“This is a scheme THG has been operating for nearly 10 years, to sell tickets illegally at astronomically high prices under the cover of a hospitality scheme,” Rio’s civil police’s director of specialised units Ronaldo Oliveira de Souza alleged at the start of this week as he raised questions over how the Olympic Council of Ireland tickets reached THG and the connection between it and Pro10.
The decision by the Brazilian authorities to issue international arrest warrants for four more THG directors, including Irishman and the firm’s solicitor David Patrick Gilmore and THG founder and Ipswich Town Football Club owner Marcus Evans, has pushed the controversy firmly back to its roots in Ireland.
While gardai are unable to act on the international arrest warrants against Mr Gilmore and two THG directors of Irish firms without Government and High Court involvement because no extradition agreement exists with Brazil, the cause of the Irish Olympics ticket scandal has been raising eyebrows ever since the Games began.
After Mr Mallon was found to be in possession of 781 Olympic Council of Ireland-registered hospitality tickets, OCI president Pat Hickey set up a three-person panel to investigate how the tickets managed to come into his possession.
Although noting Pro10 is the licensed ticket re-seller in Rio, Mr Hickey said — after a lengthy delay in making any comment — he wanted to find out how the issue had occurred. Privately.
This investigation — which yesterday was given an interim report on the matter from Pro10, which the OCI has chosen not to release — is due to complete its work in a number of weeks but will not provide findings until Mr Mallon’s legal case is resolved.
As such, it has been dogged by controversy from the start due to claims it is simply the OCI investigating itself as the sports body is a key player in the affair.
Despite the criticism and a “tense” meeting with Transport Minister Shane Ross in Rio on Sunday night, which Mr Hickey claimed was “excellent”, the OCI president has refused to bow to political pressure to add an independent person to the panel.
However, this matter has led to fresh calls for those well-known lovers of financial transparency — politicians — to step in to set up their own independent inquiry.
The threat of a State investigation was made by Mr Ross on Mondayas he said it “cannot be ruled out” — a position supported by Dáil sports committee chair Brendan Griffin, Fine Gael backbencher Noel Rock and others. Mr Ross is likely to have a second meeting with Mr Hickey this week
While such an investigation has yet to be set up, it is clear the relationship between the OCI, Pro10 and THG; how OCI tickets were obtained by the firms; and financial transparency will be central to any State inquiry.
More confusing than boxing judges decisions, more complex than the rules of synchronized swimming, and more bizarre than BMXers. But without full answers on the growing controversy, Ireland’s Olympic ticket touting scandal threatens to continue to overshadow any Rio 2016 achievements for years to come.
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