Monday 24 October 2016

Olympic heat: I want to see the money trail, Minister Ross tells OCI president

Pressure grows on Pat Hickey to reveal contracts

Philip Ryan and Maeve Sheehan EXCLUSIVE

Published 14/08/2016 | 02:30

I WANT ANSWERS: Minister Shane Ross. Pic Tom Burke
I WANT ANSWERS: Minister Shane Ross. Pic Tom Burke

Sports Minister Shane Ross has demanded unprecedented access to the Olympic Council of Ireland's commercial contracts with official ticket vendors in the wake of the ticketing scandal that is overshadowing Ireland's silver medal success at the Rio Games.

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The extraordinary intervention by a senior Cabinet minister will put the Government on a direct collision course with the influential sports body at the same time that the country celebrates Cork brothers Gary and Paul O'Donovan's first ever medal for Ireland in Olympic rowing.

The Sunday Independent can reveal that Minister Ross personally wrote to OCI president Pat Hickey twice last week ahead of a crisis meeting between the two powerful sports chiefs due to take place tonight in Brazil.

In one of his letters, Minister Ross asked Hickey to prepare a detailed brief on the ticket scandal before their meeting in the Windsor Excelsior Hotel in Rio de Janeiro tonight at 9.30pm local time.

The Minister also insisted the Irish sports body should show him all commercial contracts the OCI has with ticket vendors after an Irish businessman was arrested amidst claims of ticket touting.

He is also seeking detailed information on how the OCI chooses official vendors and how tickets are tracked once they have been given to commercial companies to sell to fans.

The Minister also raised serious concerns over the lack of tickets available to the families and friends of competitors who wanted to travel to Brazil to cheer on Irish Olympians.

"It seems that tickets are only available to the elite, and ordinary citizens can't get their hands on them," a Government source said.

The escalation in the spat between Ross and Hickey comes as it can be revealed that the OCI's most recent annual accounts show the sports body has more than €2m in cash reserves.

Ross and the OCI president are also at loggerheads over the Minister's decision to sign up to an anti-doping pledge along with 19 other EU member states.

The Sunday Independent understands that Minister Ross was forced to tell officials to republish an announcement of the anti-doping pledge after it mysteriously disappeared from his Department's website.

In a letter sent last week, Ross told Hickey he is anxious that the controversy be resolved as soon as possible as it is threatening to eclipse Ireland's Olympic successes.

He also called for at least one independent observer to be included in the OCI's internal investigation into the ticket scandal.

Hickey has insisted that he and the OCI acted appropriately and in line with Olympics rules on ticketing at all times.

An OCI spokesman yesterday refused to say whether Hickey will provide Ross with the information he is seeking, raising the possibility of a tense stand-off between the pair in Rio tonight.

"Due to the lack of information currently available from the investigating authorities in Rio de Janeiro and the potential for ongoing legal proceedings, the OCI will be making no further comment beyond the extensive updates already provided to members of the media," he said.

A Department of Transport, Sport and Tourism source said the crunch meeting is likely to increase tensions between the Minister and Mr Hickey.

"It looks like there is a showdown looming, perhaps Hickey will defuse it but I do not see how," a Government source said.

It has also emerged that Mr Ross has arranged a meeting for tomorrow morning with the director general of the International Olympics Committee, Christopher de Kepper.

The tickets fiasco and the embarrassing controversy over the failed drugs test on boxer Michael O'Reilly is casting a shadow over Ireland's first week of the Olympics in Rio.

Now the heroics of Olympic silver medal-winners Paul and Gary O'Donovan and stellar performances by Annalise Murphy in the sailing Laser Radial Class and the rest of our representatives in Brazil threaten to be overshadowed by the stand-off between the OCI and the Government.

Meanwhile, the latest accounts of the OCI for the year ending December 31 show that it is in a strong financial position with cash reserves totalling €2.257m. The accounts show that in 2015 the OCI revenue account received just over €482,000 in marketing and sponsorship, and nearly €230,000 in sponsorship for clothing associated with the Rio Olympics.

The reserves were also augmented by €122,000 for designated Irish Sports Council programmes and activities.

Almost all positions within the Olympic Council of Ireland, including Mr Hickey's position of president, are voluntary positions with just four administrative staff employed.

Mr Hickey receives an honorarium of €60,000 each year in recognition of "sterling services to the Olympic movement in Ireland over the past 25 years".

Mr Hickey has set this money aside and when he retires as president, the accrued sum will be used as "a bursary in his name for the development of young athletes".

Last week, it emerged that Irish businessman Kevin Mallon and his translator were arrested by Brazilian police for allegedly ticket touting official Olympics tickets.

Mr Mallon is an employee of ticket vending company THG but was arrested in possession of tickets allocated to the OCI's official vendor, PRO10.

THG was the OCI's official vendor for the London 2012 Olympics but was replaced for this year's games by PRO10.

PRO10 told the Sunday Independent its first contact with the OCI was on Friday, when it received an emailed list of questions, to which the firm is responding. PRO10 secured the contract with the OCI last year. The firm said it was required to "make a financial commitment" as part of the process.

PRO10 has demanded an immediate apology from the organisers of the Rio Olympics for seizing its tickets.

In a statement released last week, PRO10 said the tickets in Mr Mallon's possession were being held on the company's behalf and were to be collected by Irish and other European customers at the Rio Games.

The company said the tickets were to be sold at face value plus the agreed sellers' fee.

Mr Mallon is due to learn his fate this week.

Sunday Independent

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