Perhaps something along the lines of the Pat Hickey soap story was inevitable in Brazil, where the telenovela is a TV staple.
Even those overheated soap operas would hardly have done justice to yesterday’s events: ID cards, bathrobes, passports in a press conference, the prospect of seven years’ porridge in a South American jail. We even had a political dismissal that gained the instantaneous currency of GUBU: put him back in his box, eh?
To think Hickey told this newspaper last year he was concerned at the lack of attention he was getting (“I get worried now — no one’s attacking me!” he said last May 12 months. “I really do! I wake up some days: ‘How come I’m not in the papers anymore?”).
Yesterday’s news has had time to settle now, and the substance of the spiralling narrative is now even more disquieting. For instance, how appropriate is it, exactly, to film the arrest of a man in his 70s, or to display the details of a person’s passport for the world to see?
This observer was among those tweeting that perhaps the Brazilian authorities might care to look at some Irish messes, but on reflection, why did the Brazilian police make such a production of taking Hickey into custody, for all that his sporting expertise is in judo?
The International Boxing Association (AIBA) announced yesterday, coincidentally, that several judges were to be sent home for not reaching the required standard. Given a high-ranking member of the International Olympic Committee was arrested, however, this shameful admission of incompetence — though short of a concession of wrongdoing, as the results of that flawed judging still stand — has not received nearly the attention that it should.
The Dubliner in the bathrobe has dominated the news cycle since yesterday morning.
Taken in isolation, however, Hickey’s arrest has offered the defining image of Ireland’s Games, and it’s not pretty.
The heroics of the O’Donovan brothers in rowing and Annalise Murphy in sailing notwithstanding, the Games have had a shadow over them for Irish supporters, beginning with the news broken by Daniel McConnell here that boxer Michael O’Reilly had failed a drugs test and continuing with the much-criticised elimination of Michael Conlan. When this was combined with the arrest of Kevin Mallon from ticket company THG with OCI-allocated tickets for the Games the OCI came under even close scrutiny.
The organisation’s subsequent refusal to accept Minister for Sport Shane Ross’s suggestion than an independent voice join the OCI investigation into how those tickets ended up in Mallon’s hotel room had been viewed with surprise and disappointment.
Other threads join the narrative here: Ross has been under pressure with his brief and is viewed as struggling to make a positive impression in ministerial office. Up to yesterday, the sense persisted Hickey’s dismissal of Ross’s request for independence in the investigations was the outflanking manoeuvre of a superior politician, pure and simple.
Hickey’s command of the OCI has understandably come under persistent shellfire in the last 24 hours. Much has been made of his supposed friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, for instance, but dealing with people like Vladimir Putin is what Olympic officials do.
The International Olympic Committee decision-makers function in a world where dedicated traffic lanes are demanded for them at Games but state-sponsored doping of athletes is not cause for expelling such states from the Games. In case you thought this was a storm in a sporting teacup, consider Shane Ross’s view after that meeting with Hickey a couple of days ago: “The reputation of Ireland has to be upheld and the credibility of Ireland and Irish inquiries of this sort have to be sustained.
“We met a situation where a body that is supported by the taxpayer is now refusing to let representatives of that taxpayer to be part of this inquiry. It is something I take extremely seriously and the mood was very, very sombre indeed.”
The provision of taxpayers’ money entitles people to recourse: to accountability and oversight. For individual athletes - some of whom routinely pay competition entry fees out of their own pockets — that funding is the difference between training and participation, never mind success. It’s crucial. But the organisation responsible for allocating those funds has to be answerable to the source of the funding in the first place. It would be interesting to hear the views of those athletes on the appalling advice recommended to Hickey in dealing with Ross, the ultimate paymaster for those athletes.
For all the localised embarrassment, there’s also a wider context. Hickey is a major figure in the IOC, and commentators are already drawing parallels between yesterday’s development and the chaos sparked off by investigations of Fifa officials: what IOC grandee will next hear the police knock at the door of their hotel room?
By the way, if you’re wondering about Olympic chiefs’ immediate reaction to this news, the journalist who broke the story, Jamil Chade, had his accreditation withdrawn almost immediately by the IOC. They gave it back, though. Apparently it was just a “mistake”.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved