PAUL ROUSE: Olympic titan Pat Hickey undressed by farce

The charges he faces are notoriously difficult to prove and it may well be the arrests, the leaked footage and police press conference were all for the benefit of the police being seen to be doing something, writes Paul Rouse.

The megalomania of elite sports administrators is almost cartoonish and is fuelled by an acute sense of entitlement.

At the very highest level, their power transcends political boundaries. Indeed, they are usually courted by statesmen and politicians who wish to bask in the reflected glory of mass-appeal sporting events.

To doubt that is to deny the capacity of the people who run the International Olympic Committee to have leaders from cities all over the world competing with each other to ruin themselves by hosting Olympic Games.

By any standards, Pat Hickey is a sports administrator of international importance. His presidency of the European Olympic Committees (drawing together some 50 national Olympic committees) and his elevated position as one of the most important officials on the International Olympic Committee means he sits at the very highest table – or at least he did until he ‘temporarily’ stood down from those positions yesterday evening.

It is his international stature that makes Hickey’s arrest in a Rio de Janeiro hotel yesterday so stunning. This is not the sort of thing that the titans of the Olympics are ever associated with. The abiding image of Hickey being arrested by police in a hotel room in the early hours of the morning is not the sort of humiliation that is expected of men whose cheeks are routinely kissed by global leaders.

Many easy words have been spoken about how this arrest and the broader ticketing scandal which it flows from have ‘damaged the reputation of Ireland.’ The people who repeat this have yet to explain why precisely that is the case.

To focus on any impact on Ireland’s global reputation (whatever that is) is to miss the point. Indeed, this is not really about Ireland at all. Instead, what the arrest does more properly is underline once again the whiff of sulphur that emanates from those who sit at the apex of sports organisations.

From FIFA to the IOC, the scandals of modern sport are almost always explained by lust for money.

But — in scandal or otherwise — the men who run international sport carry themselves with a bearing that allows them ordinarily ignore those whom they choose to ignore.

The extent to which this is true can be seen by the delicious farce that was played out between Hickey and Ireland’s politicians over the past week. Indeed, from the beginning, the Great Irish Ticketing Scandal, 2016 has been magnificent theatre. First, Minister for State Patrick O’Donovan was unfortunate enough to be in Rio when the scandal began to reveal itself. He may as well have been in Kabul or Benghazi — it was clear the Olympic Council of Ireland simply decided to ignore him.

And then when the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross took the plane to Rio to question Pat Hickey, they had a meeting which made clear just how irrelevant our local politicians are to what is going on.

Basically, Hickey behaved in such a way the minister professed himself to be ‘absolutely stunned’ afterwards. It was difficult to understand how any serious politician could have been surprised – this is an episode in which Ross has been entirely out of his depth.

After all, Hickey is a man who has seen off several generations of sports ministers in Ireland. And the ones he really disliked, he dispatched with a sneer. But when it comes down to it, the relationship between Hickey and Ireland’s government ministers is mere sideshow.

Dealing with the Brazilian police is a different matter, however. The early morning arrival of Rio’s Civil Police Fraud Unit presents a whole other challenge. And his subsequent transfer to hospital and the press conference called by the police underlines the gravity of the new situation. There was something tawdry about the display of Hickey’s Olympic accreditation, his passport and other documents in front of the cameras. And it brought a scalps-tied-to-the-belt ostentatiousness that initially deflected from the gravity of where things now stand for Pat Hickey.

It appears he faces charges of facilitating ticket touting, the formation of a cartel and ambush or illicit marketing.

There are reports he could be jailed for up to seven years if found guilty. The charges Hickey faces are notoriously difficult to prove, however, and it may very well be that the arrests, the leaked footage and the police press conference were all for the benefit of the police being seen to be doing something.

It must also be stressed that Hickey has already emphatically denied any wrongdoing whatsoever and is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

Even then, however, the image of him standing in a bathrobe in a hotel room as police move in is one that will forever bookend his career.

Many questions are now begged. The detail of what has happened remains almost entirely obscure, but there are broader questions that are worthy of consideration.

For example, after all the scandal routinely associated with Olympic Games, why is this happening now? Why on the matter of tickets? And why in Brazil?

The investigation into alleged illegal ticket sales at the Rio Olympics must be in some way connected to the outrage among poorer Brazilians at the manner in which these Olympic Games have been run.

In a country lurching deep into depression, the Olympics are an extravagance that cannot be afforded and yet is one that has made some people very rich (while others have had their homes demolished to make way for stadiums to be constructed).

Further, the sight of half-empty stadiums, even for many of the most prestigious contests, underlines the extent to which so many Brazilians have been cut off from events for which they will spend the rest of their lives paying.

This must gall them – just as it must be galling to see tickets being sold as part of luxury packages to those who form part of that small international elite who can afford to drop thousands of pounds on tickets for any event, anywhere in the world and not feel the loss of their money.

The prospect – in this context – of uncovering and convicting anyone of fraud must be hugely alluring. When that prospect extends — rightly or wrongly — to a major international administrator — that allure is surely all the greater.

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