Olympics tickets: How Irishman’s arrest spawned international controversy
Last summer’s controversy at Games in Rio put OCI, THG and Pro 10 in spotlight
Kevin Mallon after his release from Bangu 10 jail in Rio de Janeiro.
It was on the first Saturday of last year’s Olympic Games in Rio that word circulated that an Irishman with a rather Brazilian name, Kevin Marlen, had been arrested for ticket touting at the event.
But the controversy that would eventually engulf the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) had its roots back as far as the World Cup in Brazil two years previously. That was when British sports hospitality company THG first came to the attention of local authorities. Police questioned its then chief executive James Sinton over his firm’s activities during the tournament.
By 2015 the organising committee of the Rio Games was aware the British company’s agents were offering hospitality packages for the Olympics to prospective Brazilian clients, despite not having the right to do so.
The organisers’ anger at this activity led them to reject the OCI’s bid to have THG appointed as its authorised ticket reseller (ATR), with responsibility for selling its ticket allocation for the games on to the public, despite it having the backing of OCI president Patrick Hickey.
Instead the OCI turned to Pro 10, a new company with no track record in the field, which was set up by two Irish football agents with links to Ipswich Town, the English football club owned by Marcus Evans, who also owns THG.
Two days after his arrest it was announced that the Irishman detained before the opening ceremony had been in possession of a significant number of OCI tickets. He was in fact named Kevin Mallon and was an executive at THG. The OCI now found itself dragged into the centre of the growing controversy.
At first the OCI claimed it did not know how its tickets ended up in the hands of a THG employee and promised to set up its own investigation into the matter.
Mr Hickey said “none whatsoever” when asked on RTÉ about his understanding of how THG became involved in the OCI’s ticketing. He said his organisation had severed its links with the company after the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. Pro 10 claimed Mr Mallon had merely been facilitating its clients to pick up their tickets in Rio.
Over a week after Mr Mallon’s arrest Minister for Transport Shane Ross flew to Rio and held a meeting with Mr Hickey in which he demanded that independent members sit on the organisation’s investigation into the affair.
Mr Hickey refused the Minister’s request point blank, which left Mr Ross visibly stunned.
Over the next two days the two men worked towards a compromise as they cheered on Irish athletes, whose endeavours risked been overshadowed by the ticketing storm.
However, early on August 17th, the Rio police swooped again, arresting Mr Hickey on charges of ticket touting.
The detention of a member of the executive committee of the International Olympic Committee during the organisation’s flagship event turned an Irish scandal into an international one.
Return to Ireland
Mr Hickey, who was taken to hospital for observation after his arrest, stepped down as OCI president. Mr Ross soon returned to Ireland, promising to set up his own inquiry into the matter.
Lawyers secured Mr Hickey’s release from custody on August 30th on the surrender of his passport. But by then Rio’s police had released the contents of a number of his emails and text messages which indicated that contrary to what he told RTÉ, he had been in close contact with THG’s owner, Mr Evans, discussing OCI tickets before Mr Mallon’s arrest and subsequently how to handle the fallout.
Last September Mr Hickey, Mr Mallon, Mr Evans and a number of other THG and Pro 10 executives were set for trial before a court in Rio. In December Mr Hickey and Mr Mallon were allowed to leave Brazil after posting bond payments of €410,000 and €215,000 respectively.
The case against the men continues in Rio and given the slow pace at which Brazil’s courts operate it could be some time before it reaches a conclusion. Even then both prosecution and defence will be able to avail of Brazil’s ample opportunities to appeal any eventual verdict.
A decision to avoid prejudicing their involvement in this ongoing case in Brazil prompted Mr Hickey, Pro 10 and THG to invoke their right not to co-operate with the non-statutory Moran inquiry.
Responsibility for getting to the bottom of the OCI’s ticketing affairs in Rio now looks to be in the hands of a Brazilian judge, given those of the Irish one who tried were tied to such an extent.