Friday 20 September 2019

Liam Collins: Time we stopped treating Hickey as Public Enemy Number One

Pat Hickey. Picture: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Pat Hickey. Picture: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Can we, for just a moment, put aside our national prejudice and get the events in Rio over the past two weeks in perspective?

Regardless of whether Pat Hickey is guilty or not, this is about nothing more than tickets for an international sporting event.

He hasn't harmed the hair on one child's head or left a family homeless. He hasn't closed anybody's business down or forced them to emigrate. He hasn't maimed anybody or cheated them out of their inheritance.

I was out of the country for most of the Olympics but was shocked on returning to Ireland at the level of malevolence and hatred directed at one man - and all over tickets for a sporting event that the vast majority of us will never attend.

Over the past 20 years, we have seen people who presided over kneecapping, bombings, possibly even mass murder, getting direct access to parliaments in Dublin and Belfast.

Yes, I'm talking about the control the IRA army council exerts over Sinn Féin. Yet they are regarded now as pillars of the community because we needed a 'peace process' to get them to desist from their murderous ways.

I see politicians from Fianna Fáil, civil servants and bankers who presided over the financial downfall and humiliation of this country - leading to mass unemployment, emigration, homelessness and even suicide - pronouncing with gravity on national issues, as if none of those events had anything to do with them.

Yet the level of national anger directed at a frail 71-year-old man with a heart condition, who is accused of ticket touting, is breathtaking and out of all proportion.

Mr Hickey is being treated in Ireland and in Brazil as if he was a mass murderer.

Read more: Ticket probe a marathon and not a sprint for beleaguered OCI chiefs

People who should know better are gloating about the violation of his human rights and taking pleasure in the travesty of Brazilian 'justice', which would not be tolerated if it happened to any other Irish citizen.

In my younger days, when I was interested in such things, it was a matter of pride to members of Kilmacud Crokes or Monkstown Rugby Club that if you had a spare ticket for a sporting event you sold it at face value to a fan who couldn't get a ticket.

Yet over the years, I have heard people boasting about getting way over the odds for tickets they 'touted' for such events. Indeed, some of these are the same people who are loudest in their condemnation of Hickey.

In more recent years, Gaelic, soccer and rugby clubs have all sold blocks of tickets allocated to club members to banks, insurance companies and other corporate entities for large sums of money on the pretext that the funds were for "club development".

I don't doubt their integrity, but it was still ticket touting on a massive scale and it prevented real sports fans from attending such events.

When the All-Ireland finals take place over the next couple of weeks, the well-heeled 'prawn sandwich' brigade described by Roy Keane will be sitting in the stands with their well-upholstered wives and girlfriends, while genuine fans will be morosely looking at the matches in a clubhouse bar or a pub in the vicinity of the ground, having failed to get a last-minute ticket.

IT is astonishing that our national anger is focused on one man, whose human rights and dignity have been flagrantly violated. He has been turned into a national ogre and the Irish public are taking vindictive pleasure in his degrading ordeal.

Decency and respect for human rights have been abandoned in the case of Pat Hickey, who, whether you like him or not, has given up much of his life to sporting administration. He has been vilified.

Maybe he has stayed too long, maybe he has made enemies over the past 25 years - yet we find this same behaviour an admirable quality in the ward-boss politicians and in some cases political families who have held on to the reigns of power in this country since the foundation of the State.

I know Pat Hickey. I have been in his company and enjoyed it. But I have never got a ticket from him or attended a sporting, or indeed any other, event with him.

What I don't understand is why he has become such a symbol of national hatred.

What is it about the Irish psyche that, regardless of whether he is guilty or not, ordinary people, many with only a passing interest in sport, are happy that he's incarcerated in a dreadful Rio prison and are cheerleading for the Brazilians to throw away the key.

On the scale of man's inhumanity to man, ticket touting is, as far as I am concerned, inconsequential.

Killers, crime bosses, charlatans of all sorts are walking around free and easy, yet we reserve our national ire for one man over tickets for a sporting event.

Let due process take its course. But in the meantime, it is inhumane and shameful that the Irish public have abandoned any pretext of fair play against a frail old man.

This is not about life or death; it's not about putting people out of their homes, or making orphans out of young children. It's about sporting gratification.

Pat Hickey is not Public Enemy Number One and it is now time that we stopped treating him as if he was.

Irish Independent

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