Pat Hickey’s Olympic ‘family’ should be given gold for cowardice

The IOC refused to criticise manner in which the Rio police had treated their colleague

Support for former OCI chief Pat Hickey has arrived late in the day. Photograph: RollingNews.ie

Support for former OCI chief Pat Hickey has arrived late in the day. Photograph: RollingNews.ie

 

“I swear, it’s not a world of men. It is not a world of men, Machine. A world of clock-watchers, bureaucrats, officeholders, what it is . . .”

– Ricky Roma, Glengarry Glenross.

Minsk, Belarus is a long way from Tipperary and it’s a hell of a lot further from Rio de Janeiro – particularly if you travel via Horse and Jockey. But it was from wintry Minsk last week that the friends and colleagues of former European Olympic Committee president Pat Hickey found it within themselves to gird up their Olympian loins and to clear their throats and voice their “outrage” at the treatment the Irishman has endured since being detained by the Rio police authorities.

“We have studied the allegations against Pat Hickey and from what we know, he is not guilty of any criminal offence,” said acting president Janez Kocijancic to a chorus of applause and further declarations that the Brazilian accusations contained “no proof”.

That remains to be seen in the trial – if there is a trial. As expressions of support and sympathy go, these words would be fine apart from the fact that from Pat Hickey’s perspective, they are mind-blowingly and shamelessly late in arriving.

As has been well documented, Hickey was arrested in the International Olympic Committee hotel room very early in the morning of August 17th. The circumstances of that arrest and his subsequent detention in a maximum security prison were unquestionably humiliating and arguably degrading.

It is also difficult to argue that they were in any way necessary. Presumably most if not all the EOC executive members were in Rio – probably in the same hotel – at the same time as Hickey. But in the days afterwards, the silence from the inner sanctum of the Olympic “family” was more telling than a thousand press releases on the subject.

Shellshock

Shane Ross

The international media would not have cared all that much about a police investigation into an alleged ticket scam and the arrest of the head of a fringe national Olympic committee head had it been conducted in a more civil fashion. True, Hickey’s status in the IOC would have elevated the interest. But the video footage of the arrest made sure the story went viral in a way that was unpleasant for Hickey and his family.

At the daily IOC briefings, the questions about what the IOC thought about the arrest would not stop coming but they were deftly neutralised by the spokesman Mark Adams, who kept on repeating that Hickey was entitled to the presumption of innocence. The IOC steadfastly refused to criticise the manner in which the Rio police had treated their colleague. They repeated line was that they respected the process of justice within Rio.

The IOC’s cowardice in refusing to release a strong objection to the circumstances of Pat Hickey’s arrest was the final proof, if any were needed, that the notion of an “Olympic family” was, and is, the most pathetic of the many hypocrisies which pollute international sport.

In stressing that Hickey was entitled to the presumption of innocence – which he was and is – the IOC implied that they believed in his innocence. So where, then, were the statements of protest, the outrage, the condemnation and most of all the unequivocal support for their colleague and family member?

From IOC president Thomas Bach down, it was non-existent. Anyone who attended those briefings couldn’t but be unnerved by the magisterial smoothness – the regal public indifference – that Hickey’s Olympic family colleagues treated him in his hour of need.

The only explanation is that the IOC hierarchy was so taken-aback by the chutzpah of the Rio police, who were throwing arrest warrants about like wedding invitations, that they went to ground. Perhaps the IOC was working feverishly on behalf of Hickey. If so, they did a terrifically good job of disguising it. The Olympics ended in an appropriate Sunday night rainstorm in Rio, everyone left town and Pat Hickey stayed on.

Now, it’s almost November and the Minsk letter is the first public message of support which has been thrown his way. The EOC gathering went even further in its show of solidarity by displaying a photograph of Hickey on a large screen with the message: “The warmest wish is that he can return to his family and Olympic duties as soon as possible.”

Heart procedure

Morale within the Olympic Council of Ireland cannot be good. FAI chief John Delaney, who in August was seen by Hickey as the future captain of the good ship OCI, hastily stepped down from his role as vice president, pointing out that his role within the FAI was his priority. Sound reasoning? Maybe, but then why accept an invitation from the OCI in the first place?

The Deloitte report on the OCI culture of governance does not reflect well on Hickey’s time in charge, irrespective of the substance of the legal charges he is facing in Brazil. Perhaps, in the long term, the fiasco of Rio will mark the dateline of the OCI’s transformation for the better.

And Hickey had flagged his intention to step down from his national role after Rio anyway. Maybe when all this is over, if Hickey is innocent of the charges, then his friends gathered in Minsk will get their wish and see him walk through the door again to resume his place at their table.

Should the reunion happen, it would be fascinating to see if they have the courtesy to look even a small bit sheepish. As one the wiliest practitioners of international sports administration, though, Hickey knows the game and its every nuance. He knows that the public silence, through the longest days of his incarceration, was nothing personal, just business.

Perhaps the big question for him, in the many long afternoons he has had to reflect, is whether he would even want to rejoin his Olympic family, should the chance present itself. Would he want to sit around a table with people who couldn’t, for whatever reason, shout out their support when it mattered back in August? Would he want to be part of that parade of disposable heroes of hypocrisy?

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