Pat Hickey guilty or innocent? Part of me doesn’t really care

Many have little sympathy for 71-year-old’s plight but situation is no laughing matter

Former president of the Irish Olympic Council Pat Hickey

Former president of the Irish Olympic Council Pat Hickey


We were rehearsing for a Halloween show during the week when the band suggested we play The Hurricane. “Just substitute Pat Hickey for Rubin Carter,” they said, then cracked up laughing. Who wouldn’t?

‘The man the authorities came to blame... for somethin’ that he never done... put in a prison cell, but one time he coulda been the champion of the world...’

Funny thing about that song is, Bob Dylan has completely disowned it. He hasn’t played it anywhere since 1976, the year after recording it.

What Dylan soon suspected, like certain others, was that perhaps “Hurricane” Carter wasn’t actually as innocent as he claimed: a middleweight boxer from New Jersey, he was co-charged with a triple murder in 1966, convicted (twice), before eventually the charges were dropped in 1985, after his attorneys filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The prosecution, they said, had been “predicated upon concealment rather than disclosure”, and Carter certainly maintained his innocence, right up until his death two years ago.

My old room-mate in college in America, who now happens to be a chief prosecutor in New Jersey, still wasn’t so sure, and would always tease me whenever I’d bore him with all 22 verses of The Hurricane on my beat-up Gibson guitar. He understood too that, innocent or guilty, none of the charges were any laughing matter.

Innocent or guilty

I certainly don’t know if Hickey is innocent or guilty. A part of me doesn’t really care either, the part of me that certainly doesn’t care for him.

The last time I saw Hickey was just before Rio, at an Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) reception at the Brazilian ambassador’s residence on Dartry Road. Hickey owned the room as usual and after spotting me in the corner, warned everyone, “Who on earth invited the journalist?”

There were legal threats as well, both in writing and to my face, like the time I questioned the OCI’s early deadline for the 2004 Athens Olympics, which may have cost Maria McCambridge her rightful place on the Irish team. “Be careful about standing up for those athletes,” Hickey warned me. “That’s if you want to be going to the next Olympics yourself.”

It’s over 10 weeks now since his arrest. That’s also when most people first heard about his heart condition, as he was taken to a Rio hospital. A day later he was transferred to Bangu prison (which roughly translates as “up the s**t”), where he spent 11 days in a one-room cell along with fellow suspect Kevin Mallon. The cell consisted of two mattresses on the floor, and a hole in the corner for sanitary purposes: the water was turned on three times a day, five minutes at a time.

There are plenty of people who believe Hickey had all that coming to him. He was then released, partly down to what the Rio judge described at the time as the “critical health” of the 71-year-old: having surrendered his passport under the conditions of his temporary release, he’s not permitted to leave Brazil, and he’s been there since, staying at an apartment paid for by the OCI in the Leblon Beach district, with no indication yet of a potential trial date (it could take 18 months).

Now, there are reports Hickey is suffering from an atrial fibrillation, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, which both his Rio and Irish-based doctors claim requires immediate surgery; the news emerged at exactly the same time as the draft report into the OCI’s governance arrangements, carried out independently by Deloitte, and presented to the OCI executive committee on Thursday night.

Behind all the recommendations for the OCI in how they run their business, one thing is clear: no one should serve more than two four-year terms in office in order to prevent “the dominance of one viewpoint or mode of thought” or “double hatting of duties” – which although not directly stated in the report, has clearly been the modus operandi of Hickey’s presidency of the OCI going back to 1989.

“There was nobody interested, because of my past history,” Hickey told me in 2014, when I asked why he believed no one had stood against him since 2001. That was after winning a seventh four-year term. Now, his days with the OCI are over, because so basic are the recommendations of the Deloitte report that it will be impossible to ignore the most basic of them.

There may well be other motivations for the sudden eagerness of Hickey’s legal team to secure a release of his passport so that he can return to Ireland for that medical procedure. According to a colleague who underwent a similar procedure for an atrial fibrillation, it can be a tricky and unpleasant experience.

Crippling heat

Others close to Hickey suggest the crippling heat of Rio is weakening him, that he’s missing his family, especially as his daughter and daughter-in-law are due to give birth in January – and of course plenty of people think he’s had all that coming to him as well.

One person who recently visited him in Rio left Hickey sitting alone in his apartment, a page of foolscap paper on the table in front of him, on which was written his name, address, the hospital he needs to be taken to in case of an emergency, and his health insurance number.

Innocent or guilty, that’s not really much of a laughing matter.

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