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There will never be another Pat Hickey

An OCI president for 28 years, fearless and combative he climbed to the top of the international Olympic tree

With uncharacteristic hush and understatement, Pat Hickey departed the Olympic stage this week. A letter of resignation to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was accepted for health reasons following the advice of his doctors.

It was low profile and unfussy. Not at all Hickey. It also brought to an official end the career of one of the most able and divisive characters in the Irish sporting arena.

In a practical sense, Hickey’s involvement in the Olympic movement came to a shuddering halt following a police raid on his room in the five-star Windsor Marapendi Hotel during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

The arrest was made with TV cameras in tow and the humiliating footage of the Irish president in his bathrobe being ushered out of the hotel was a stroke of rough justice, Brazilian style. His marathon Olympic run ended in Bangu prison.


Hickey never got the opportunity to defend his name in a Rio court and probably never will.

Some of the charges against him involving the allegation of ticket touting were dropped in October 2021 due to the “extinction of punishability”. A case is still to be heard relating to the remaining charges. He has always maintained his innocence.

Following Rio he self-suspended himself from a life’s work including his 28-year presidency of what is now the Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI).

Administrators rarely stand out. Hickey did. For more than two decades he and the Football Association of Ireland’s John Delaney were stories as bankable and high profile as the athletes they represented. Delaney was also a vice president of the Irish Olympic council.

What made Hickey a constant thorn in the side of the establishment was his brazenness and, until Rio, his uncanny ability to usually emerge on top, whether his spat was with a minister, and there were several, or newspapers with which he had a love/hate relationship.

Many who wrote about him on a regular basis could expect to receive a letter from his solicitor Giles Kennedy. It kept relationships interestingly edgy.

But Hickey also commanded grudging respect. The ability of a judo athlete from north Dublin to climb to the top of the Olympic tree and become an executive IOC member required street fighter’s instincts with a deft political touch.

There was also a performative aspect to the way he rolled with people, appearing to enjoy the public sparring sessions with politicians, especially when he came out swinging at ministers.

“The man who tried to wipe us [OCI] out was Bernard Allen back in ‘96,” Hickey said of the then sports minister, who he described as the “Fuhrer”, after a wrangle over sports funding. “It was all-out war.”

In 1997, he said then sports minister Jim McDaid was “divisive, disruptive and confrontational” and that “guys like him felt they could run the world”.

At an Oireachtas committee hearing into how the OCI was run in 2017, Sport Ireland chairman Kieran Mulvey, talking about Hickey, said: “Ministers were humiliated. He chastised our former Taoiseach.”

Certain of his ground as the representative of the IOC in Ireland, Hickey remained in permanent attack mode if the autonomy of the Olympic movement was in any way threatened.

He never wavered on that. The Howth office was like the Irish embassy of the bigger IOC governing body and Hickey was its ambassador in Ireland.

He had clout and brought two IOC presidents to Dublin. In 1999 IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch accompanied him to the funeral of former IOC president Lord Killanin.

In 2012 Dublin was the only city outside Greece and the United Kingdom to host the Olympic flame and IOC president Jacques Rogge was there to see it arrive at the offices by Howth harbour.

Regardless of the abrasive streak, Hickey was a shrewd political strategist and capable of turning on the charm. Most importantly he understood how voting worked and how to make the numbers always add up in his favour.

Initially his support came from sports that rarely had an athlete at an Olympic Games. It didn’t matter. A vote was a vote, wrestling the same as Olympic anchor tenants like swimming and athletics.

He backed loyal federations. They backed him. They voted for him twice during his tenure when others challenged his presidency, including the sailor and former governor of the Bank of Ireland, Richard Burrows.

He rubbed shoulders too. In 2015 as pop star Lady Gaga sang John Lennon’s Imagine for the Opening Ceremony of the European Games in Baku, she did so as an approving president of the European Olympic Committee, Hickey, looked on with other dignitaries.

President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, president of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach, president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko and president of Russia Vladimir Putin all attended.

He wasn’t interested when Fianna Fáil approached. But you could see why they did. Hickey had energy and was interesting and generous company. He would tell unrepeatable and unpublishable stories and fill people in. The assumption was that it was to his own political advantage. But he also understood people’s functions.

The solicitor’s letter might have still been emitting heat on the office desk but Hickey was happy to meet and greet, step up to buy a round of drinks and engage in the banter. For him it was just the way things worked.

After Rio it emerged he ruled by executive order, ran some things by the board, but not everything. For 28 years, through different governments, he made it work. Now 77-years-old, of his time, there won’t be another.