Sunday 25 August 2019

Curious links between rival ticketing firms emerged as controversy unfolded

THG Sports attracted adverse publicity in Brazil, writes Shane Phelan

Drug tests from London 2012 continue to expose Russian athletes as cheats (Stock picture)
Drug tests from London 2012 continue to expose Russian athletes as cheats (Stock picture)
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The appointment last year of Pro10 Sports Management as official ticket sellers for the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) for the Rio Games raised a few eyebrows at the time.

It was a small and only recently formed company run by football agents and had no track record in handling major events.

In comparison, Pro10's immediate predecessor was THG Sports, part of the major hospitality group owned by billionaire Ipswich Town Football Club owner Marcus Evans.

THG had been the OCI's "authorised ticket reseller", or ATR, for the London 2012 Olympics and the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

That there was a change in operator was not a surprise, as THG had attracted adverse publicity, particularly in Brazil. But the choice of a previously unheralded operator was somewhat unexpected.

The OCI claims Pro10, run by football agents Eamonn Collins and Michael Glynn and financial advisor Ken Murray, was the only company that applied.

But it has ignored further questions posed about the appointment process and will not say whether the contract was put out to tender.

THG's woes began four years ago when Brazilian footballer turned politician Romario raised questions about the packages it marketed in London, saying these were geared towards wealthier clientele.

He was worried tickets for the Rio Olympics could end up being too expensive and unsuccessfully sought to have OCI president Pat Hickey called before a congressional committee in Brazil, due to his role in THG's appointment.

Romario also called on Mr Hickey to explain why his son Stephen was employed by THG at the time of the London Olympics.

THG also ran into controversy during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil when its then chief executive, James Sinton, was detained by police investigating a so-called "ticket mafia".

The company said he voluntarily made a statement and that no further action was taken against him.

Yet it was not re-appointed by the OCI as its chosen ATR for the Rio games.

Despite this, THG director Kevin Mallon turned up in Rio with around 813 tickets for high-profile events.

He was charged with illegally selling tickets and arrest warrants were issued for fellow THG directors Marcus Evans, David Gilmore, Martin Studd and Maarten Van Os. It is claimed the directors were "involved in the illegal selling of tickets at prices well above face value, under the camouflage of hospitality packages".

It is at this point that a number of curious links between THG and Pro10 began to emerge.

Pro10 claimed Mr Mallon, although not its employee, was holding tickets for its customers.

It said Ireland had a small business community and the company knew Mr Mallon was going to Rio to look after THG clients so Pro10 asked him to bring its unsold tickets with him.

A further curious link between the two firms emerged when it became clear that out-of-hours calls to Pro10's Lucan offices were being redirected to a Marcus Evans Group mailbox.

Pro10 still insisted it is not affiliated with Marcus Evans.

Then yesterday, as OCI President Pat Hickey was being arrested by Brazilian police, warrants were simultaneously issued for the arrest of Pro10's directors. All three are well known in soccer circles and were previously closely associated with St Patrick's Athletic.

Questions posed to both companies by the Irish Independent about the nature of the relationship between them were not responded to yesterday.

Pro10's directors were also strangely silent on how the business, only formed in May last year, came to win the ATR contract five months later. We asked what track record the firm's directors had in handling ticketing arrangements, but got no response from Insight Consultants, the public relations firm it has hired to deal with media queries.

Mr Collins was a former player and manager at St Patrick's Athletic Football Club, while Mr Glynn also worked with the Inchicore club in the early 2000s. The third director, Ken Murray, was commercial manager for the club for a period. None of the three are involved with St Patrick's any longer.

While Pro10's directors refused to answer many of the questions posed to them, a statement issued on their behalf insisted the company had done nothing wrong.

It accused Brazilian police of dealing with "extremely serious allegations" through the media and said they had not made contact with Pro10.

"Pro10 utterly rejects any insinuation that they have been involved in selling tickets at inflated prices, ticket touting or scalping. We abhor such practices."

The statement said it was seeking legal advice and would vigorously defend its reputation.

Irish Independent

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