Tuesday 6 December 2016

Relations between ministers and OCI's Pat Hickey plummet amid doping and ticket scandals

Niall O'Connor and Fionnán Sheahan

Published 13/08/2016 | 02:30

OCI president Pat Hickey (right) celebrates after the O’Donovans race in Rio. Photo: INPHO/James Crosbie
OCI president Pat Hickey (right) celebrates after the O’Donovans race in Rio. Photo: INPHO/James Crosbie
OCI President Pat Hickey celebrates The O'Donovan brothers' silver medal performance in Rio. Photo: INPHO/James Crosbie

Relations between the Government and Irish Olympic bosses have dramatically deteriorated amid a row over doping and the growing ticket scandal that has shattered our international standing.

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Embattled Sports Minister Shane Ross will hold showdown talks with the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) tomorrow, having already refused to express confidence in its president, Pat Hickey.

Mr Ross yesterday cast doubt over the OCI's ability to conduct an independent investigation into the ticket-touting scandal that has resulted in the arrest of Irishman Kevin Mallon.

But the Irish Independent can reveal that the tensions between the Government and the OCI date back weeks before the Games began.

Sources say Mr Hickey was opposed to a decision by the Government to sign up to an anti-doping pledge that involves 18 other European countries.

A spokesman for Mr Hickey last night confirmed that he was opposed to the proposal from the Danish government.

"The OCI was made aware of the letter in question after it had been published and Pat Hickey expressed his opinion that it was not an official communication from the EU as it was not signed by all 28 members.

"This was the only engagement the OCI had with other stakeholders in Irish sport," the spokesman said, adding that the OCI "does not have the mandate to seek to influence other stakeholders in Irish sport on such matters of government".

Despite being told of the OCI president's opposition to the move, Minister of State at the Department of Sport Patrick O'Donovan signed up to it.

Well-placed sources have confirmed that Mr O'Donovan was warned by officials that such a move would "not go down well" with the OCI and in particular with Mr Hickey, who did not meet the minister when he arrived in Rio.

Read More: PRO 10: 'Irishman arrested over alleged touting was acting for us'

But last night, the Fine Gael minister said the Government was "fully committed to protecting the clean athlete" and that this position would not change.

"If someone has a problem with our position on doping, then tough, it will not be watered down," Mr O'Donovan told the Irish Independent.

He said he had a responsibility to be accountable to both the taxpayer and the Oireachtas, adding: "There can be no hiding in terms of doping."

The Government, he said, in conjunction with Sport Ireland, would initiate a post-Olympics summit involving European countries to discuss how to respond to doping in sport.

Asked if he had been told of Mr Hickey's opposition to signing the pledge, Mr O'Donovan said he did not wish to discuss "who said what to whom".

Meanwhile, Mr Ross yesterday declined to say whether Mr Hickey was "suitable or not suitable" for the role in light of the ticketing scandal.

But he again stopped short of initiating an independent investigation and said a "journalist" could potentially be placed on the OCI's investigation body.

Read More: Three-man OCI team is set to investigate

Such is the level of farce, it has also emerged that the Irish ambassador to Brazil, Brian Glynn, did not get accreditation to the Games because he was not in the company of either the Taoiseach or the President.

An OCI spokesman said this was in accordance with rules laid down by the International Olympics Committee.

Separately yesterday, PRO 10 Sport - the company at the centre of the controversy - said it had fully complied with the authorities. A spokesman for the company said the tickets held by Mr Mallon were to be "made available simply for collection by Irish and other European customers" in Rio.

Irish Independent

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