Ian O'Riordan: Pat Hickey interview avoids the hard questions
Ex-OCI boss fails to address key questions about tickets controversy in interview
The Untouchables showed up on our dodgy box during the week, right on that scene where Al Capone is attending a performance of the opera Pagliacci.
There’s Capone, crying in his seat, in perfect tune with Pagliacci, (“the tragic clown”). Played with ample plumpness by Robert De Niro, he’s slowly approached by his henchman, Frank Nitti, and told they’ve just killed Chicago police officer Jimmy Malone – that character played with brilliantly reserved exuberance by Sean Connery, earning him his first and only Academy Award.
De Niro then stops crying, and begins to quietly laugh, in a reverse of the Pagliacci theme. And by the way Enrico Caruso’s recordings of the arias of Pagliacci, from 1907, were the first records to sell one million copies.
There is something enduringly relevant about that Pagliacci moment, one of the great scenes of delusion in modern cinema, especially when knowing it is not long before the once untouchable Capone is taken down for tax evasion. Because it seems in sport these days there are deluded scenes like this all the time.
It’s easy to imagine Russia’s deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko laughing in his seat last weekend when being approached by one of his henchman to be told the entire Russian football team has been implicated in doping offences during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
This should be serious business – the same offence, it appears, that resulted in the entire Russian athletics team being banned from last year’s Rio Olympics, and still banned from the World Athletics Championships in London in August. Thank God someone is standing up for their sport. Although some people still seem to think that’s a bit unfair on the Russian athletes.
That all stemmed from the findings of Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, after an independent investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), which presented reels of evidence than some 1,000 Russians athletes across a variety of sports, including the Paralympics, had been implicated in the manipulation of doping samples, included many cases of tampering where samples were illegally switched for fake clean ones.
Among the names to now emerge are those of the country’s entire 23-man squad from that 2014 World Cup, and five of whom are members of the Russian squad knocked out of the Confederations Cup last Saturday.
Only Mutko, who also happens to be head of the Russian Football Union, came out this week to describe those doping allegations as “nonsense”, telling the Russian news agency TASS that in football there “never has been or never will be any doping”.
Mutko, remember, was similarly deluded and dismissive when the doping allegations in Russian athletics first emerged in 2013, and we all know now how true they are. No one expects the Russian football team to be banned from next year’s World Cup, which they’re hosting, and Fifa, we are told, are “investigating”.
At least Dick Pound, the former head of Wada and a man not known for exaggeration, is a lot less deluded: “Even within a governing body with as little credibility remaining as Fifa, if you were a senior official you wouldn’t want to be part of a body that ignores this,” he said.
“There has been an institutional denial of doping in football for years . . I’ve seen too many presentations by Fifa, straight out of fantasy land, about how they don’t have a problem.”
Which brings us on to the strangely conceited frolic that was Pat Hickey’s interview with Paul Williams on Newstalk Breakfast last Wednesday morning.
An in exercise in Hickey’s own enduring delusion of grandeur, it too was played with ample plumpness, the former president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) acting out a neat little piece of modern vanity journalism. There was a camera there too, permanently fixed on selfie mode.
Williams has certainly served his time interviewing people facing criminal charges, although he appeared to let Hickey away without asking any of the relevant questions – let alone any of the hard ones.
Such as is Hickey, for starters, prepared to go back to Brazil to “clear his good name”, should his ticket-touting case ever come to court?
Or why was the sports hospitality company THG in possession of 813 Olympic tickets, some of which allegedly originated from the OCI, when they weren’t authorised to act as an official ticket reseller?
Indeed what about those emails released by Rio police allegedly showing contacts between Hickey and Marcus Evans, the UK owner of THG, suggesting they co-ordinated their companies’ responses as the ticketing controversy unfolded?
And what exactly was meant by that advice to the OCI that Minister for Transport Shane Ross “needed to be put back in his box”?
So many questions, so few questions.
Instead, with all his old illustrious gusto, Hickey essentially delivered his own defence in ready-made sound bites – most spectacularly when freeing himself from any of the €1.5 million consumed by the OCI as a direct result of the ticketing controversy.
“The €1.5m was done without my knowledge, I know nothing about it,” he told Williams.
Because whether he knew “nothing about it” or not, this money was not spent by accident; it all started with the OCI ticket controversy on the eve of the opening ceremony in Rio last August and it’s not finished yet.
Hickey is right in saying he’s not the sole cause of the spend, as the €1.04 million in legal fees alone involved representation for other OCI members caught up in the investigation, including some of his subordinates, such as former honorary general secretary Dermot Henihan, Rio chef de mission Kevin Kilty, and OCI chief executive Stephen Martin.
There was also that €214,000 already paid out for the yet-to-be-completed Grant Thornton Report, which was looking at the OCI’s own ticketing arrangements, before Hickey’s own legal team put a stop to it.
And another €18,000 on the Deloitte Report, which examined the OCI’s governance in light of the Rio controversy and his arrest, and concluded the OCI during Hickey’s term as president had failed to adhere to the basic requirements of well-run bodies.
Or is Hickey really still deluded into thinking otherwise?