Thursday 27 October 2016

'Rift in Rio' leaves the two men in grey suits with very bruised egos

Published 16/08/2016 | 02:30

OCI president Pat Hickey Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
OCI president Pat Hickey Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It would be a hard-pressed tout that would sell tickets for a battle between two aging Irishmen in grey suits at an upmarket Brazilian hotel.

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But such is the 'rift in Rio' between Sports Minister Shane Ross and Olympic Council of Ireland President Pat Hickey that it is fast turning into the only fight that will go the distance.

There was no knock-out punch when the duo came face-to-face yesterday to debate the ticket tout fiasco - instead we got two emblems of controversy backing each other into separate corners.

Ross and Hickey have a lot in common. Both are experienced operators who are used to getting their own way. They have never shied away from the spotlight, even in the face of substantial criticism.

Hickey once said that he gets "worried" when nobody is attacking him. "I really do. I wake up some days: How come I'm not in the papers anymore?" he said.

If he has been glancing at the coverage of the Olympics in recent days, he'll no doubt have had his fill from the papers - but until he coughs up some real answers the media won't let this one go.

In really basic terms, people need to know the sequence of events that led to around 800 tickets being confiscated by police in a hotel room and how a company without any representation in Rio got a contract to resell the tickets on behalf of the OCI.

This is not so much about the money as about corporate governance.

Mr Ross has gone from very quiet to verbose in the days since news of the tickets allegedly finding their way into the hands of touts broke.

At first he was caught on the hop and didn't seem to grasp the gravity of the situation.

Then he attempted to overcompensate by going straight for the jugular, only to miss.

Now we have a situation where there is a police investigation in Brazil and the OCI has its own investigation - but we are still unclear as to what the Government's strategy is.

Mr Ross is turning to the Attorney General Máire Whelan, whose "opinion" he dismissed just a few weeks ago before voting in opposition to his Fine Gael Cabinet colleagues.

He hopes she will find a legal mechanism for an independent inquiry.

Mr Hickey declined to answer any questions on the grounds it might prejudice a case before the Brazilian courts - but that raises another question.

Is trust between the OCI and the Government so bad that the president doesn't believe he can privately reassure the minister that there is a reasonable explanation for all this?

And secondly, who is giving Mr Hickey the legal advice?

Minister for State with responsibility for Sport Patrick O'Donovan argued at the start of this debacle that the best place for an inquiry would be the Oireachtas Committee on Sport. That still seems like the most likely place it will end up.

In a statement issued last night, the OCI said it looked forward to ensuring Mr Ross and his wife "enjoy their stay in Rio".

We can only imagine the author's tongue was firmly planted in their cheek as they wrote that.

Irish Independent

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