Sunday 20 October 2019

The task ahead for Olympic Council

(L to r) OCI Board Members (President) Sarah Keane, Lochlann Walsh and Billy Kennedy during a Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) media Briefing on the Moran Report into the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
(L to r) OCI Board Members (President) Sarah Keane, Lochlann Walsh and Billy Kennedy during a Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) media Briefing on the Moran Report into the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Editorial

Editorial

The newly elected officers of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) have one priority, to excise every trace of the insidious influence of its former president, Pat Hickey, and that includes doing everything to have him permanently removed from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) where he still serves, although he has temporarily stood down since Rio.

That latter body funds the OCI to the tune of 60pc, but since all sponsorship is now gone and Minister for Sport Shane Ross is withholding grant aid totalling €500,000 to date, the IOC is now the only source of funds for Irish Olympic activity. This at a time when the OCI could be facing legal bills from Hickey in Rio as well as the cost of public relations and other reporting services, currently standing at around €1m, associated with the ticket scandal.

By far the greatest challenge is the set of agreements put in place by Hickey with THG to be the OCI's official ticket seller at all Summer and Winter Olympics until 2026. The first of these agreements fell apart last year in Rio when it was rejected by the local authorities who suspected THG was involved in ticket touting. Hickey and THG boss Marcus Evans, with whom he had a relationship described last week by Judge Carroll Moran as "long-standing and to their mutual benefit which Mr Hickey sought to conceal", cooked up a scheme to overcome this setback by establishing what Mr Ross called "a sham... a front and a cover" - Pro10. It didn't work. The Brazilian authorities saw through it and sent in the police instead.

The new OCI president, Sarah Keane, reckons the Hickey deals with THG are watertight. If the Hickey agreements are as watertight as Ms Keane says, the Irish Committee may have no choice but to make a financial settlement to extricate itself from the Hickey deal. Whether that would satisfy the minister sufficiently to allow State funds to flow again to the Olympic movement remains to be seen.

The minister has been criticised for not setting up a statutory inquiry, but given that the limited investigation he did establish under Judge Moran was supposed to finish in weeks but took a year and cost over €300,000, he was probably right. That inquiry and the Oireachtas Committee on Sport, Transport and Tourism were probably naive in thinking Pat Hickey and some of the other parties to this disgraceful affair would make themselves amenable for questioning. But they have much to answer for. Like why the occupant of the unpaid position of OCI president was given an honorarium totalling €360,000? Like why the needs of athletes, their families and supporters were sacrificed so their tickets could be sold to the highest bidder? Like why the OCI sought the very valuable tickets for high-profile events rather than those in which Irish athletes were actually participating like boxing and rowing? And why were all the family tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies given to Pro10?

Just as important is the need to hear from all those who have served on the OCI over the past 27 years under Pat Hickey's autocratic role. They allowed him to operate without effective oversight and preside over what the minister last week called "shameful standards of corporate governance". They, too, have serious questions to answer.

Sunday Independent

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