Ian O’Riordan: Pat Hickey affair shows need for reform

The way the Olympic Council of Ireland operates will need to be completely changed

Former OCI president Pat Hickey: claim of needing “permission to do things” from the OCI executive committee now seems  a little suspect. Photograph:  Larry French/Getty Images for ANOC

Former OCI president Pat Hickey: claim of needing “permission to do things” from the OCI executive committee now seems a little suspect. Photograph: Larry French/Getty Images for ANOC

 

You know what they say about being nice to the right people on the way up. Sooner or later you are going to meet them on the way down. Which is why Pat Hickey may ultimately be judged not on what happened in Rio de Janeiro in the past few weeks but what happens next.

So where is he now? Still under house arrest in Rio. That much we know. Yet even given the fair and noble presumption of innocence – and Hickey’s own claim of there being “no substantive proof of any wrongdoing on my part” – his reign and intended succession as president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) is now written in water: it cannot possibly last.

That is not a hunch or an opinion but the simple realisation that if one thing is becoming clear from this sorry mess, it is that it must be the end of the OCI world as they once knew it. And if any good is to come from it all, that’s certainly not before its time.

If any organisation is to be torn apart, it must first be split somewhere down the middle, which the Olympic Council of Ireland now clearly is.

Take as a starting point Hickey’s typically defiant interview with RTÉ in the initial aftermath of the Olympic ticket-touting scandal which sent the sort of fireworks over Rio normally reserved for the opening ceremony.

“In the ticketing issue, we immediately assembled a committee to investigate the whole event,” Hickey told Philip Bromwell, the entire transcript of that 10-minute TV interview still neatly archived on the OCI website.

“And by the way, this is all approved by our executive committee because I’m not the Lone Ranger here. I have to go through the executive committee for permission to do things.”

Gradual exposure

With that, inadvertently or otherwise, Hickey first turned the spotlight on the modus operandi of the Olympic Council of Ireland’s executive committee, which until now not many people necessarily cared or indeed wanted to examine. The worry for Hickey is not just the gradual exposure of this operation but that the Lone Ranger may not even have his Tonto.

Because, according to Kevin Kilty, the OCI chef de mission in Rio, and Stephen Martin, the full-time chief executive of the OCI, Hickey is, indeed, “the big chief of this gang” – okay, not in their exact words, but as told to Rio police chief Ronaldo de Oliveira.

Given all that has unfolded since Hickey’s initial arrest just over two weeks ago, it’s unlikely that Kilty or Martin was telling any lies.

“They confirmed the role of Patrick Hickey as the big chief of this gang,” de Oliveira said, when recounting their testimony last week. “This was very important, that all the actions were carried out by him.”

On that basis alone, it would appear that Hickey’s claim of needing “permission to do things” from the OCI executive committee would be a little suspect – because the truth can only have one side.

Then came the statement from law firm Arthur Cox, which on the instruction of the three-member crisis committee established by the OCI executive committee following Hickey’s arrest, examined the minutes of all OCI board meetings dating back to March 2014. According to Arthur Cox, this “shows the appointment of Pro10 [the OCI’s authorised ticket reseller for the Rio Games] was not brought to the attention of, or approved by, the OCI Executive Committee”.

In the meantime, his own second vice-president, John Delaney, appeared to distance himself from Hickey, his statement – or rather clarification – last weekend claiming he had “no role whatsoever in this matter”.

Voluntary member

Given his primary role as chief executive of the FAI, Delaney was always going to be quick to defend his reputation, although the wording of his position within the OCI made for more interesting reading: “He does not have an executive role in the OCI, but that he is a voluntary and unpaid member of the Executive Committee which is the statutory board of the OCI.”

For over a year now, Delaney had essentially been lined up as Hickey’s eventual “successor”, if that’s the word in a democratic election. First, though, vice-president Willie O’Brien has already taken Hickey’s role, for now, once Hickey temporarily stepped aside following his arrest. Hickey himself has gone on the record several times to claim that O’Brien was about to take over anyway, until Tokyo 2020, with Delaney then fairly certain to succeed after that.

Only now Hickey’s prediction on the outcome of two those “elections” is anything but certain. Instead, the 11-member executive committee (now excluding Hickey, naturally) appear to be holding strong to defend both their own reputations and whatever reputation the OCI has left.

The truth is the executive committee is entirely voluntary, with minimal expenses, beyond a modest overnight rate for board meetings. None of them signed up for this, not least that three-member crisis committee of Sarah Keane (Swim Ireland), Ciarán Ó Catháin (Athletics Ireland) and Robert Norwood (Snowsports Association of Ireland), newly accepted on to the board in August 2014.

Precarious nature

Indeed the fact that Martin, the full-time chief executive of the OCI, is not on the executive committee is another example of the precarious nature of this operation.

That now clearly needs to change, not just when it comes to ensuring the proper allocation of Olympic tickets. The OCI received €1.72 million in State funding in the four-year cycle up to Rio, including €520,000 in the first half of this year alone. There can be no uncertainty about the role of an executive committee in charge of that. It’s a lot of taxpayer money – more, incidentally, than the €1.57 million given to Irish Rowing in the same four-year cycle, the association which actually went about winning Olympic medals.

“There was nobody interested, because of my past history,” Hickey told me, in 2014, when asked why he believed no one had stood against him for OCI president since 2001. That was after winning a record seventh four-year term, due to expire in August 2018; only now and because of his past history, that next election should be wide open.

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