After the scandals, Olympic ticket inquiry has work cut out

A fortnight on from the first ripples of the multimillion-euro Irish Olympics ticket touting claims, two Irishmen are in a Brazilian jail, international arrest warrants are out for a billionaire football club owner, and a Government inquiry has been launched, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith

After the scandals, Olympic ticket inquiry has work cut out

However, it is only now that the real work begins.

With a necessarily “limited” non-statutory inquiry due to ongoing legal issues in Brazil, the Cabinet and Attorney General Máire Whelan will this weekend attempt to work out the terms of reference for the 12-week investigation.

The terms will be published early next week and used as the basis for a yet-to-be-named senior retired judge to attempt to uncover the full facts of what has taken place in the touting scandal.

While it is not yet certain what these terms will involve, questions on the relationship between the Olympic Council of Ireland, THG, and Pro10 will need to be at the centre of any investigation for a chance of success.

As previously reported, in summer 2007 THG Sports Tours, a subsidiary of the Marcus Evans Group — a sports hospitality firm run by the reclusive billionaire owner of Ipswich Town FC — was named as the Olympic Council of Ireland’s official ticket seller for the 2012 London Olympics.

The date is the first known interaction between both the OCI and THG.

Both the OCI and THG were yesterday asked a series of questions about the contract by the Irish Examiner, including whether it was publicly tendered for and if any other companies put in bids.

The OCI — which waited until after the announcement of the inquiry to respond to the questions — said it could not answer because of the inquiry. THG refused to comment.

The same questions were also put to the OCI and Pro10 over the 2015 decision to award the Rio Olympics ticket resell contract to the company formed that same year. Both parties declined to answer because of the inquiry, in addition to clarifying the exact date Pro10 was awarded the contract.

While there is no suggestion of wrongdoing, the circumstances surrounding the awarding of the contracts are likely to be a key starting block for the inquiry.

Another issue likely to be examined will be whether THG and Pro10 have any formal links, a claim that has been strenuously denied by both parties.

THG lost the OCI contract in 2014 due to issues relating to the Fifa World Cup in Brazil which saw Rio police arrest THG’s then chief executive James Sinton in connection with alleged ticket touting, while Pro10 was set up on May 20, 2015, by KMEPRO Ltd and subsequently won the contract.

It has emerged this week that Pro10 needed the assistance of THG to provide tickets to customers in Rio as the company did not have anyone on the ground.

This assistance came from Kevin James Mallon, THG’s Irish director, who Brazil police found in possession of 781 OCI hospitality tickets meant for athletes’ families and others, and whose company said he was in Brazil simply to sell non-ticket hospitality packages to customers.

Brazilian police say this connection, and news a Pro10 voicemail redirected to the Marcus Evans Group which owns THG, indicates the companies are linked, with officers claiming on Tuesday that Pro10 was set up to circumvent THG’s 2014 licence loss.

Both companies reject this claim, an issue the inquiry will need to clarify.

At the heart of the investigation, however, will be the actions of the OCI and Pat Hickey, its president who has “temporarily” stepped aside — and is currently in a notorious Rio jail awaiting charges.

For still unexplained reasons, 781 hospitality tickets registered with the OCI were being sold by Pro10 and in the possession of Mr Mallon in Rio, despite the fact they were meant for athletes’ families and others.

Mr Hickey and the OCI’s role, if any, in this issue will be crucial to the success or failure of any substantial investigation.

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