WHILE Irish sports fans undoubtedly follow with great interest the fortunes of our Olympic athletes, the most fascinating bout in Rio is between Sports Minister Shane Ross and the chairman of the Olympic Council of Ireland, Pat Hickey.
If their war of words was a lightweight boxing final, rounds one and two would have gone to Minister Ross. But Mr Hickey cannot be written off. He has been at the helm of the OCI since 1989 and, even though he might be on the ropes, he is artful, adroit, and clever. A former Irish judo champion, he has exhibited some fancy footwork.
He not only leads the OCI, but is also president of the European Olympic Committees and is vice-president of the world body, the Association of National Olympic Committees. In reality, he is no lightweight.
Ross has been jabbing away at the OCI, but Mr Hickey has landed a good sidewinder, causing the minister to concede that he is “absolutely stunned” that the OCI has turned down a request from the Government to add independent members to the panel investigating the controversy.
Kevin Mallon, an executive for sports hospitality company, THG, has been in jail for the past ten days, while the Brazilian authorities investigate the affair.
The OCI has established a three-man panel, whose terms of reference are to investigate how part of the OCI’s ticket allocation came to be in the possession of other, third-party sellers.
That amounts to the OCI investigating the OCI. That was why Minister Ross wanted to add an independent voice to the panel, which the OCI has refused to do.
Unlike some national Olympic committees, the OCI does not sell tickets itself, but appoints an authorised ticket re-seller to do so, allowing them a profit margin. The agent for the Rio Games is Pro-10 Sports Management, who say that Kevin Mallon was its representative in Rio and that he had an official letter of authorisation to act on its behalf, relating to the collection of tickets.
The OCI insists that the terms of its agreement with Pro-10 are commercially sensitive and, therefore, confidential. It also says that the number of tickets allocated to OCI is “commercially sensitive and cannot be disclosed”. That is the same kind of obscure language employed by Mr Hickey. He refuses to allow the Government access to OCI accounts, because they are — wait for it — “commercially sensitive”.
None of these arguments are credible. In soccer and rugby, the number of tickets allocated for international matches to Irish fans is always known in advance. There is no ‘commercial sensistivity’ cloak.
Likewise, there is no reason why the Government should not have access to the OCI accounts. After all, it is mostly funded by the taxpayer.
The controversy raises a broader question about the accountability of organisations that are financed by the Government.
If Minister Ross can raise the bar on that accountability, his spat with Mr Hickey will have been worth it.
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