Sunday 4 December 2016

Profile: The abrasive auctioneer who rose to become a prime mover in international sport

Published 18/08/2016 | 00:00

Pat Hickey (71) from Phibsborough, north Dublin, has risen from international judo competitor to become the most powerful man in Irish sport as president of the OCI, a mantle he has held for nearly 30 years Picture: Sportsfile
Pat Hickey (71) from Phibsborough, north Dublin, has risen from international judo competitor to become the most powerful man in Irish sport as president of the OCI, a mantle he has held for nearly 30 years Picture: Sportsfile

'Pat is probably the top-ranked Irish administrator in the world of international sport and, as well as being a prime mover in the IOC, he is president of the powerful European Olympic Committees organisation."

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This is how the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) describes Pat Hickey on its website. Little wonder then that Hickey looked shaken and bewildered when Brazilian police arrested him at his hotel room in the early hours of yesterday.

Ireland's Olympics have been dogged by controversy, from boxer Michael O'Reilly's failed drug test to the ticket touting scandal that has become an international story. But no one could have imagined that the controversy would end up with Brazilian police executing an arrest warrant for Pat Hickey.

Auctioneer Hickey (71) from Phibsborough, north Dublin, has risen from international judo competitor to become the most powerful man in Irish sport as president of the OCI, a mantle he has held for nearly 30 years. And he has frequently courted controversy since he was elected to the position in 1988.

He previously said he would step down as president after the Rio Olympics, but a few years back he said he would retire before Rio. Other sporting officials who have attempted to remove him over the years have found themselves easily outmanoeuvred. Back in 2001, there was a significant challenge to Hickey when Richard Burrows, the former head of Pernod Ricard and a leading light in sailing, stood against him.

Some of Ireland's most famous Olympians, Eamonn Coghlan, Michael Carruth and Mick Dowling, urged support for Burrows but Hickey carefully gathered his votes where it mattered, rather than through the media.

There was frantic speculation that he was about to be toppled, but in the end Hickey won a landslide victory 27-10.

Hickey has also shown himself to be abrasive when it comes to dealing with politicians.

After a wrangle over sports funding in the 1990s, he described the Sports Minister Bernard Allen as the "Führer".

Jim McDaid, another Sports Minister, also had rows with him and described him as "divisive, disruptive and confrontational".

One of the rows centred on the minister's accreditation for the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

McDaid said either Hickey would have to change, or he would be changed.

Hickey later said of McDaid: "Guys like him felt they could run the world. 'I'm a big minister, you do what I tell you.' It doesn't work like that. My constituency is different."

Little wonder then that he gave Sports Minister Shane Ross short shrift on Sunday when he tried to question the OCI president on the ticket touting controversy in Rio. Ross said the encounter had left him "stunned".

Those who know Hickey say that despite an abrasive streak, he is a shrewd political strategist and is capable of turning on the charm when he needs to.

Read More: Hickey faces seven years if charged, convicted

In another life he could have been a Fianna Fáil minister of the old school. One sports figure who has seen him work up close says: "He approaches everything in a political way, and knows that it is all about getting the votes, no matter where they are from."

Hickey rose up the ranks in a small sport, judo. But early on in his career as an aspiring Olympic official, he realised the small sports had as many votes on the council as the more glamorous sports. Hickey has previously spoken of how he looked after officials from eastern Europe and they have stood by him through thick and thin.

In recent weeks, Hickey condemned all doping in sport. But he also defended the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not to impose an outright ban on Russian athletes at the Rio games. Hickey has temporarily stood down as president of the OCI, but it's unlikely his career as sport's great survivor is over yet.

Irish Independent

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