Pat Hickey’s legacy will reach into Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Shane Ross says OCI run like a ‘fiefdom’ and ticketing issue will direcly affect funding
Pat Hickey, former president of the Olympic Council of Ireland: his arrangement with the THG/Pro10 ticket resale companies has impacted on Irish athletes looking towards the Tokyo games in 2020. Photograph: Alan Betson
The legacy of the man Minister for Sport Shane Ross described as running the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) like a “fiefdom” is reaching even further and wider than imagined.
Former OCI president Pat Hickey’s arrangement with the THG/Pro10 ticket resale companies, rejected as credible entities by the Rio games organisers and now by the winter Olympic organisers in Pyeongchang, has impacted on Irish athletes looking towards the Tokyo games in 2020.
The legal tie-in with the ticket companies lasts until the 2026 Olympic Games. Current OCI president Sarah Keane, a solicitor, believes the contracts are “watertight”.
Ross told Thursday’s meeting of the joint Oireachtas committee on transport, tourism and sport he can see no way state funding can be restored to the OCI until legal issues regarding the tickets are resolved.
Keane implied at a press conference earlier this week there are legal implications if the OCI tries to withdraw, as tickets for Tokyo are seen as valuable assets and are expected to be in great demand.
“That would have to be resolved satisfactorily until we resume funding to the OCI,” said Ross, regarding the ticketing agreements.
“That is a problem for them [OCI]. But we would certainly not want to fund them if there any outstanding legacy issues.”
The OCI has already lost all its sponsors including its main one, Electric Ireland, as well as Kellogg’s, New Balance, the yoghurt-maker Müller and car company Kia. Most of the contracts ended after Rio and others more recently. What remains are no sponsors and no state funding.
That does not leave the OCI penniless, as the International Olympic Committee provides for 60 per cent of its annual needs. But it is a financially perilous situation as the council is also facing bills for Hickey’s legal costs, PR costs and various reports.
“I haven’t come across a person who had been able to buy a ticket in Ireland,” said Ross about the way the OCI was run prior to Rio. “It was ridiculous.”
Referring to Pro10, the company Hickey agreed should be the ticket resale company after THG was rejected, Ross was withering. “This was a sham company. As someone in the OCI said, it was a front and a cover. We got Pat Hickey’s personal assistant. She gave very, very strong information. She described Pro10 as a front. That’s extremely powerful.
“It is certainly clear from the report it [OCI] was a fiefdom. The tickets seemed to be his preserve. The valuable tickets seemed to be his preserve.
“The flagship of Irish sport was in the hands of one man. It certainly won’t happen in Tokyo.”
At the meeting Ross sometimes found himself defending the recently published report he ordered from Mr Justice Carroll Moran into the Rio ticketing arrangements, even though John O’Mahony, a member of the joint committee, pointed out “five of the six major stakeholders did not take part” in the report’s work.
But the Minister stood his ground, despite one wild claim that “Judge Moran has revealed a hitherto unknown rotten culture at the heart of the OCI” when, in fact, it was the worst-kept secret in Irish sport.
In 1996 Ireland’s top athlete Sonia O’Sullivan was humiliatingly forced to strip in a stadium tunnel before her 5000m heat at the Atlanta Olympic Games. The reason: an ongoing dispute between the OCI and Irish athletics over clothing sponsors Asics and Reebok.
“What we got was conclusive proof that it was unacceptable,” said Ross, referring to Rio. “We got the exposure of the disgraceful behaviour towards athletes and their families.”
Twenty years ago the greatest track athlete in the history of Irish sport would have known all about that.