Great rivalries are made at the Olympic Games. We have Michael Phelps and Chad le Clos in swimming, Bolt and Gatlin in the 100m sprint, the O’Donovan brothers and those très cool French dudes in the rowing. But you ain’t seen nothin’ like Ross and Hickey in the egos.
The Irish people awoke yesterday morning dazed and confused. Their Minister for Sport was on the radio proclaiming himself “stunned” after a meeting with the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI). “It was fairly tense, fairly direct and fairly frank,” Shane Ross told Morning Ireland.
“An excellent meeting” was how Pat Hickey described it. Were they at the same meeting? Is there any hotel room capable of accommodating both egos in full flight?
The two titans of Irish life had come together to discuss this embarrassing business about how an Irishman has ended up in a jail in Rio de Janeiro after being lifted with bundles of tickets on his person. Where did he get them? On whose behalf was he operating? What does the OCI know about him? What the hell is going on?
These are the kind of questions that Mr Ross wanted answered. More specifically, Mr Ross had told the nation that he would insist on an independent person being included on an OCI panel inquiring into the affair.
The summit in Rio was supposed to be an exercise in bringing Mr Hickey to heel. However, Mr Ross discovered, as many before him had, that Mr Hickey is a wily old dog who can bite as well as others might bark.
In effect, Shane Ross was snubbed. This is highly embarrassing for a senior politician. Albert Reynolds was once snubbed by Boris Yeltsin at Shannon Airport, but at least Boris was reportedly out of his mind on drink at the time. The snub issued to Shane Ross on Monday was a simple, sober message.
Take a hike, minister, this is my baby, the long-standing OCI president conveyed. And then, just to show that there are no hard feelings, he invited the minister to dinner. Say what you like about Pat Hickey, but you gotta love his chutzpah.
Minister Ross was stunned at the whole thing. His initial reaction included the news that he would consult with his junior minister Patrick O’Donovan and the attorney general. Patrick O’Donovan is a fine, young man but it’s difficult to see what advice he could give Shane Ross about politics or life.
As for the attorney general, well, you can imagine the sheer delight Marie Whelan would enjoy if told that Shane Ross was on the line. Just a few short weeks ago, Miss Whelan was subjected to acute embarrassment at the cabinet table when Mr Ross rejected her advice on the abortion issue as “just an opinion”.
Now the same minister plans to run to her seeking some form of advice that might save his ego from abrupt deflation.
The other course of action Mr Ross threatened was “looking very closely at the prospect of another inquiry. That hasn’t been ruled out”.
Bring it on. In keeping with a prevailing trend, it might be best to have an inquiry into the inquiry.
We could get the ball rolling with a scoping inquiry into the OCI inquiry to see whether a full inquiry was required. If not, then the inquiry into the inquiry could be handed over to an Oireachtas committee to do a sort-of an inquiry.
While Mr Ross nurses his considerably bruised ego, there are nevertheless some serious questions that must be addressed in any inquiry. We know that the OCI awarded ticket allocation to a company called Pro10, yet this outfit apparently did not have the capacity to physically issue tickets to purchasers. Why then was the contract awarded to Pro10? Surely a basic requirement for any agency awarded the contract should have been capacity to distribute tickets.
The man detained in Rio, Kevin Mallon, is a director of THG Sport, the agency that previously had the contract from the OCI to distribute tickets but which it lost to Pro10 for these games. Was he sub-contracted by his rival Pro10 to distribute the tickets, and was this known to the OCI?
Pro10 issued a statement last week outlining its version of how things had unfolded. “We explained that the tickets Mr Kevin Mallon, an employee of THG group, had in his possession were held on our behalf to be made available simply for collection by Irish and other European customers of Pro10 in Rio.
“These had been made available for sale through the authorised ticket reseller process and were sold to legitimate customers of Pro10 at face value plus the allowed ATR reseller fee.”
Up to 1.000 tickets are understood to have been seized by Brazilian police following Mr Mallon’s arrest. If this is the case, then where are the shortchanged customers who bought tickets online yet never actually received them?
Irrespective of the cack-handed manner in which the Minister for Sport has approached this issue, those questions require proper answers.
Shane Ross is certainly correct in his estimation that full answers are unlikely to emerge from what is effectively an internal OCI inquiry. Ensuring transparency in any process will require the kind of political handling that has sadly been lacking so far.
Perhaps Mr Ross should take up the invitation to dine with Pat Hickey. The latter would undoubtedly be able to tell the politician a thing or two about politics.
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