The early morning knock on the door that brought Pat Hickey’s world crashing down
Sporting Controversies: On August 17th, 2016, an Irish Olympic dynasty began to unravel
Pat Hickey opens his hotel room door to a Rio police officer on the morning of August 17th, 2016.
Like a John Cassavetes movie or the ‘lost in the bowels of the stadium’ sequence from the mocumentary ‘This is Spinal Tap’ we all vicariously lingered at the back. Craning for a view the shaky hand-held camera moved up the corridor towards the door.
Courtesy of a local Fraud Unit, the camcorder had first come through the hotel foyer of the luxurious Windsor Marapendi in the upmarket Barra da Tijuca neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro with a determined group of men. From that moment the tension suggested there would be a money shot in a matter of minutes.
The small posse of Policia Civil were in search. They had a target and they knew where it was sleeping. Through the camera lens, the world joined the chase.
The rugged style of the shoot was cinéma vérité, improvised and forward moving. Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) president Pat Hickey was the subject in Rio’s reality television show. He could never have imagined he would play the central part in this hotel incursion.
The first introduction of Hickey was as a confused head peaking out through his partially opened bedroom door as any head might be shaken from its sleep in a dawn raid.
Invited to be flies on the wall and enraptured, for those few minutes everyone became part of the drama. Even now exactly what unfolding reality we were witnessing other than video-captured humiliation and embarrassment remains unclear.
But the theatre of the bust was itself a damning sequence, a light flicked on in the bathroom behind, Hickey emerging in his three quarter sleeved white hotel dressing gown, the judo man looking every bit a martial artist but vexed and confused as we rolled into his room interfering and provoking, all of it just barely ethical.
The disturbing question as he was hauled into the hallway after years of a harum-scarum presidency and a pox on everything he saw as being on the wrong side of his beloved International Olympic Committee (IOC) was whether anybody even cared about the raid’s dubious integrity.
The Irish government, according to Hickey did not. In a scathing interview afterwards he concluded that he had been entirely abandoned.
“He scampered off back home,” said Hickey lashing Minister for Sport Shane Ross. “I think he was afraid he was going to be arrested himself. It’s a bit like the wild west out there. Anything could happen as I found out.
“I enquired from the Olympic officials remaining in Rio did he enquire into my wellbeing and my health and was I being looked after, was anyone taking care of me in the prison and he never enquired . . . just legged it back to Ireland. The government were useless. The Irish government did absolutely zero for me.”
It seemed all too juicy and demeaning as Hickey walked down the corridor flanked by the cops and out the front door hastily dressed, hair uncombed, dishevelled and visibly stunned. A perp walk in all but name.
A tearing down of the dignity and office of a man who had posed for photographs with heads of state including Russian president Vladimir Putin and who Minister Ross once said ‘ate cabinet ministers for breakfast’.
It was also an arrest photo op more suited for a man society should have feared, not a 71-year-old IOC grandee with nothing in his room more lethal than a bunch of venue tickets on a table, a telephone and what would likely be his final laminate pass as an elite IOC Committee member.
Unscripted and only whispered dialogue, the final frames at around 10am Irish time recorded Hickey being politely but firmly placed in a vehicle then whisked away for questioning, in all of our minds to a prison that was a hell hole.
Justice Rio style. The police later alleged that Hickey plotted with businessmen to transfer tickets illegally from a sports company called Pro10 to the hospitality provider THG Sports, which was a non-authorised vendor. THG then allegedly sold the tickets on for highly inflated fees.
Rio that week could not have been less explosive. Katie Taylor, Michael Conlan, Joe Ward and Paddy Barnes were going down as calamity and anger gathered around allegations of cheating and corruption by boxing officials. The week before Irish middleweight Michael O’Reilly had been sent home after testing positive for a banned substance.
Lack of communication over O’Reilly’s ban ensured the media heard it before the Irish boxing coaches did, leading to a surrounded team bus at the first weigh-in as John Conlan and Zaur Antia scrolled their phones looking for information, a bank of television cameras pointed in their faces.
Hickey’s arrest dropped into an ever deepening Rio pool of pain as the Irish Olympic system that had brought home six medals from London four years earlier was imploding into chaos.
The arrest ensured sport took a back seat with the prosecutors quickly painting Hickey as a high stakes player in the deception game and pressed ahead with three charges. Proclaiming his innocence from the beginning, Hickey was accused of facilitating ticket touting, formation of a cartel and ambush or illicit marketing. Almost four years later the charges remain unproven allegations. No Brazilian court has yet heard evidence.
Where it began is difficult to pinpoint. It was possibly 29 years before when Hickey was first elected president of the OCI gentleman’s club in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin. By force of character he built the organisation into a player in the Irish market and himself an important figure in the international body.
The arrest in Rio on August 17th was not just of a sports administrator. Hickey was a power broker in Irish and international sport, who played the north Dublin nobody and establishment outlaw, earning grudging public respect.
If there was a ministerial Troy to burn, Hickey was first in line, sports ministers Jim McDaid, Bernard Allen and Ross all feeling the heat. The public were drawn to his little guy ferocity and sharp elbows. His radar was sound. He usually saw things coming.
But 10 days before the early morning call by the Policia Civil and just two days after the Opening Ceremony in the Maracana Stadium, reports of an arrest over ticket touting began to break. The man’s name was Kevin Mallon, a director at British firm THG and the tickets in his possession had come from the OCI.
Four days later on August 11th, sensing a scandal, Hickey declared there was “no impropriety whatsoever from anyone in the OCI or myself in the dealing of tickets”.
The plot thickened. A day after Hickey’s statement Pro10, the company officially authorised to resell the OCI’s tickets, said Mallon was distributing tickets on their behalf. The problem was, said Pro10, they did not have a representative in Rio. That begged the question why they were the official ticket resellers.
The Rio police at that time reported they had seized 781 tickets being sold at “extremely high prices”.
It was Sunday, August 14th when Minister Ross parachuted into Rio with his own declarations. He was not happy. He was demanding answers. Within 24 hours he would become the latest cabinet minister Hickey had for breakfast. Ross emerged from their meeting “absolutely stunned”. The OCI president had refused to blink. There would be no independent members sitting on any ticket inquiry.
A humbled Ross returned on August 16th, a day before the arrest, only to report that, shock horror, the second meeting with Hickey had gone south too.
But as Hickey was being processed, a Rio police force that never stopped giving added further colour to the dour sequence of events. They released an email that had been sent from Hickey’s legal adviser in Dublin.
The advice offered was “In general, Shane Ross needs ‘to be put back in his box’.”
Ross promptly announced in a statement that he was to meet attorney general Máire Whelan and deal with the fallout.
If Hickey had felt degraded by being literally undressed on camera in his hotel, there was more to come. Concluding he was a flight risk, and citing previous experience of the investigation into then THG chief executive James Sinton in relation to a 2014 World Cup ticket scam, the Brazilian court remanded him in custody.
The next day Hickey stepped away from his role as president of the OCI, and self suspended himself from membership of the International Olympic Committee, his role as president of the European Olympic Committees and his role as vice-president of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC).
All of it took a considerable personal toll with Hickey requiring medical treatment. Two days after the raid he left the Samaritano Hospital in a wheelchair and driven to the Carlos Eboli Criminal Institute in downtown Rio.
At around the same time Conlan was downloading his infuriation and outrage at the boxing judges across the city, Hickey was giving a statement to the inspector leading the investigation, Aloysio Falcão, before departing the institute in the back seat of a police car, hiding from photographers.
He was taken to a processing centre at Police City in Jacaré before being transferred to the maximum security Bangu Prison. The fall was precipitous. From luxury hotel to a notorious institution controlled by gang members, where riots 12 years previously had left 30 inmates dead.
When the dust had settled public prosecutor Marcos Kac charged Hickey and nine others with ticket-touting, ambush marketing, theft, tax evasion, money-laundering and criminal association.
Back in Dublin the battered OCI and government were not standing still. Taking the view of never let a serious downturn go to waste, they geared up.
A non-statutory inquiry headed by retired High Court judge, Mr Justice Carroll Moran was announced on August 24th with the OCI, a day later, announcing data security firm Espion was to secure, copy and seal the OCI server and all OCI electronic data.
The cost to the OCI exceeded €1.5 million with the final cost not fully known until the case officially closes in Brazil.
It took over two months in 2016 for Hickey to be given his passport back and only after a bond of €410,000 was paid to the Brazilian courts by Olympic conglomerate, the ANOC.
It would take another year, November 2017, for the Brazilian Supreme Court to suspend the case against Hickey and the other accused, all of whom denied wrongdoing, to examine the merits of the prosecution case and of the Habeas Corpus request by lawyers for co-accused Mallon.
His lawyers argued they could not mount a proper defence as the prosecution had presented no evidence, and “nor was there clarity on his alleged involvement in any crime”. It was not known how long this would take. It continues to remain unclear.
But Hickey, still innocent of doing anything illegal, was politically destroyed and less than six months after his arrest at a February EGM in Dublin’s Conrad Hotel, Sarah Keane swept into the OCI presidency, the first new face in almost three decades. He remains self suspended from the IOC while their Ethics Committee conduct an investigation.
Cinéma vérité, a hand-held camera at 6am in Rio’s Windsor Marapendi Hotel and a bunch of tickets had helped bring down a sports chief, who for 30 years had always been one step ahead.