DANIEL MCCONNELL: Greater pressure must be brought to bear on the OCI in the public's interest

My word, didn’t we get an earful from poor Michael Conlan, whose “dreams were shattered” yesterday.

The devastated boxer let rip in front of the RTÉ cameras after his dubious defeat to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin.

He set his sites firmly on the international amateur boxing body, who he accused of allowing the competition to be rigged.

“AIBA are cheats. Fucking cheats. As simple as that. They’re cheating bastards, they’re paying everybody,” said Conlan.

“I was here to win Olympic gold. My dream’s been shattered. You know what, I’ve a big career ahead of me. And these ones [AIBA]? They’ve always been cheats. Amateur boxing stinks. From the core right to the top.

“It’s like Katie [Taylor] yesterday, no way she lost that fight. It was a close fight, but she didn’t lose.

“I’m gutted, from the bottom of my heart. I wanted to go back with a gold medal to Ireland. Now I feel I’m going back a loser. I’m not a loser, I’m a winner. Today just showed how corrupt this organisation is.”

Conlan’s shock defeat following a similarly unexpected loss for Katie Taylor the day before has led to a wave of accusations that Russia have bought the Games, and that “names are already on the medals” as coach Eddie Bolger stated yesterday.

Such comments portray an Olympic Games which is rotten to the core, which is beyond salvation.

And Ireland has had its own fair share of woes, in and out of the fields of battle.

Since we broke the story of Michael O’Reilly’s failed drugs test almost two weeks ago, the Irish Olympic effort has been dogged by controversy.

The ticket touting scandal, which has seen an Irishman Kevin Mallon languish in a Rio jail for almost 10 days, refuses to go away.

Yesterday, key questions remained unanswered as to this saga with the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) still far from out of the woods as to how this all came about.

Particularly, still unanswered is how Kevin Mallon, a THG employee, was handling tickets designated for the OCI, when THG had been told not to do so.

THG said yesterday that to answer that question could lead to Mallon’s pending case being prejudiced.

Also, the OCI’s refusal to include any independent person on their investigating team smacks of institutionalised complacency and arrogance.

Surely, with its reputation under question, any steps to give reassurance to the taxpaying public should have been considered.

Junior Sports Minister Patrick O’Donovan, speaking to me last night, reiterated his calls for the Oireachtas Transport and Sport Committee to investigate the saga as part of its review of the Olympics. He also, crucially, stopped short of expressing confidence in Pat Hickey as head of the OCI.

While his senior minister Shane Ross has been pilloried by political opponents in recent days, importantly he and O’Donovan have been united in their attempts to get answers from the OCI.

Ross too has received messages of support from other Fine Gael ministers, including Paschal Donohoe, who have urged him to keep his chin up. Donohoe and Ross spoke over the weekend and the Public Expenditure Minister sought to bolster the first time minister.

Following his stonewalling of his line minister, Hickey is coming under renewed fire to allow some independent oversight of his body’s handling of the ticket allocation.

Primarily, he and the OCI have yet to answer how did a small body like Pro10 come to be awarded the contract to handle the tickets, when it couldn’t afford to have someone on the ground in Rio to give them out to their intended recipients.

THG, for their part, have their lawyers on the ground in Rio, trying to secure the release of Mallon from jail.

The lawyers are also trying to make sense of the warrants issued for four of their top directors, including another Irishman David Gilmore.

THG also hit out at what it described as “confusing and contradictory” statements from Brazilian police as to what sort of monies are involved.

A spokesman said that THG, in terms of its hospitality, organises packages including accommodation, access to events, involving large sums of money.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the focus has to be on the OCI and its governance of the Olympic effort from top to bottom.

Without making any judgement as to their innocence, their refusal to bow to Government demands to allow independent oversight, raises questions as to what they may be hiding.

Relying upon anonymous legal advice as the basis for refusing the Government’s request is less than satisfactory and surely greater pressure can be brought to bear to ensure the public’s confidence in the OCI can be retained.

Failure to do that will see the Irish public feeling as cheated as Michael Conlan was in Rio yesterday.

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