Wednesday 26 October 2016

Pat Hickey finally got to the top of the world - and it blew up right in his face

Published 20/08/2016 | 02:30

Patrick Hickey, President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, leaves the Hospital Samaritano Barra in a wheelchair to a waiting police car in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Patrick Hickey, President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, leaves the Hospital Samaritano Barra in a wheelchair to a waiting police car in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

At the beginning of this year, Pat Hickey wrote an article for a sporting website and posed the question: "How do you follow a year like 2015?"

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From his lofty position as President of the European Olympic Committees, he could hardly have expected that in 2016 he would be arrested at dawn, naked in a hotel room in Rio - and later kept in police custody facing allegations of ticket touting.

Following this outlandish turn of events, one was reminded of a famous acronym from the Haughey era - GUBU.

As the then-Taoiseach remarked in 1982 while he stumbled from one crisis to another, the events were "Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre, Unprecedented".

On Wednesday, with Ireland's most powerful sports administrator led away in a skimpy bathrobe in the full glare of cameras, we had another GUBU moment.

As one commentator noted, Ireland's toll of arrests over ticketing allegations threatened to exceed our haul of medals.

The Sports Minister Shane Ross delivered his own volley of colourful verbiage to describe the crisis involving tickets, the Olympics Council of Ireland, and his attempts to bring Pat Hickey to heel: "Stunned, "Stonewalled", "Shattered", and "Shellshocked".

Ross deserves full marks for alliteration, but whether he can get to grips with the Byzantine ticketing arrangements of the OCI remains to be seen.

Hickey is potentially set to face three charges of facilitating ticket touting, formation of a cartel and ambush or illicit marketing.

Read more: Exclusive: Pat Hickey was 'evasive' when police tried to interview him - lead investigator claims

Read more: Nine things you need to know about the prison with 'a deadly reputation' where Pat Hickey is detained

Earlier in the week, Shane Ross had flown to Brazil to bring Hickey into line, and insist that the OCI has a proper investigation of what had happened to the OCI's tickets.

But as it turned out, the much-anticipated 'Rumble in Rio' between the two men had all the menace of a minor tiff over flower arrangements at a vicarage tea party. Ross should have known from the outings of previous sports ministers that Hickey would have regarded him with the lofty disdain of a medieval pope meeting a minor lord from a vassal state.

The former President of FIFA, João de Havalange, was fond of remarking that since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the world had just three major power blocs: the United States, FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee.

Hickey, in his pomp therefore carried the demeanour of a supra-national overlord, on first name terms with tyrants and monarchs.

He hobnobbed around the Vatican, and enjoyed affectionate fist bumps with Vladimir Putin at the Winter Games in Sochi.

His recent troubles in Rio, and the as yet unproven allegations against him, may focus attention on other aspects of his career - such as his enthusiastic championing of Azerbaijan as the location for the European Games last year. The 'New York Times' described the country's President Ilham Aliyev as "hugely corrupt... his authoritarian regime has one of the world's worst records on human rights".

And a US diplomatic cable, revealed by Wikileaks, portrayed the dictator as a combination of Michael and Sonny Corleone from the 'The Godfather'.

None of this bothered Hickey too much, and the pair seem to have enjoyed a warm friendship. Nothing seemed to fill Hickey with as much pride as the hosting of the games in Baku.

At his 70th birthday party in the oil-rich republic, Hickey declared to admirers: "I'm on top of the world!", echoing Jimmy Cagney's line from 'White Heat'.

But as one observer remarked this week, with Hickey languishing in prison, film buffs could remind him of the final line in that movie: "He finally got to the top of the world... and it blew right up in his face."

Hickey still had his old swagger after his meeting with Ross on Monday, posing with the Minister on Tuesday next to the silver medal-winning sailor Annalise Murphy.

He even felt emboldened to invite Ross for dinner in an Italian restaurant but the minister is reported to have declined the generous offer of a meal. The Olympics boss attended a function on Tuesday night blissfully unaware of the events that would unfold early on the following morning.

The Brazilian authorities have been highly sensitive to the suggestion that ordinary sports fans were being kept away from Olympic events, as rich people snapped up tickets. Before the last World Cup, the former Brazilian footballer Romario even expressed concerns about the way the Irish Olympic Committee handled tickets at the last Games in London.

Romario, a Socialist Party politician, said in a blog post: "Everyone knows of my concern to ensure that all our citizens can afford tickets for the World Cup and the Olympics. So I am concerned to read reports that Mr Hickey granted Ireland's allocation of tickets for the Olympic Games in London to a private company that packaged them with hotel rooms and sold them to wealthy clients."

Hickey could not have been in a worse place for another reason when a large number of policemen arrived at the door of his hotel room at 6am on Wednesday.

As Hickey scuttled off in a state of undress, whoever filmed this raid might have been tempted to shout "cut!" on the grounds of good taste. But it was not to be, and the pictures quickly flashed around the world.

At times this saga seemed like a comical episode of Mr Bean, with its lead character walking around naked.

Initially, his wife had opened the door and she reportedly said he was not there.

The officers spotted his shoes, socks and his open suitcase, which were still in the room. They sought their scarlet pimpernel in the gym, the breakfast room, and the restaurant. Eventually they found him in his son's room.

He eventually emerged in his bathrobe before being taken to hospital after feeling unwell.

The once proud Olympics chief cut a forlorn figure as he emerged from Samaritano Hospital on Thursday, pushed in a wheelchair.

After living it up in hotel rooms for decades on expenses, the former auctioneer was last night housed in the less salubrious suites of Bangu Prison - home to some of Brazil's most dangerous criminals.

Having been "on top of the world" just a year ago, Hickey has reached an all-time low.

Irish Independent

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