Thursday 14 December 2017

The most powerful man in Ireland (and he isn't paid a cent!)

HE'S among the most powerful men in the country, on first-name terms with heads of state, kings, queens and sheikhs through his work with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

But many have never heard of Pat Hickey, the 67-year old Dubliner who has sat at the helm of the Olympic Council of Ireland since 1989, despite being behind the scenes at some of our greatest sporting successes.

Forget John Treacy, Giovanni Trapattoni, John Delaney, Philip Browne or Criostoir O'Cuana -- they're all small fish in the international sporting pool compared with the Phibsborough native.

President of the Olympic Council of Ireland since 1989, IOC member for Ireland since 1995 and President of the European Olympic Committees, he has never taken a salary, acting in a voluntary capacity.

A former company director involved in property, he has a black belt in judo -- representing Ireland internationally -- but his job within the Olympic movement means he is a mover and shaker unparalleled in Irish sport.

In his time, he has met some of the most powerful world leaders including Vladimir Putin (with whom he shares a love of judo); he's been awarded honorary doctorates by the Bulgarian National Sports Academy, the National Olympic Committee of Azerbaijan and the University of Pamukkale in Turkey.

He was recently named as number seven in the most influential people in the Olympic movement. Without his contacts, the Olympic torch would never have come to Ireland.

It's no surprise that Hickey has seen it all over the course of his career.

He's still as committed as ever and later this summer will attempt to get a seat on the all-powerful IOC executive board.

Here, he shares some of his favourite Olympic memories with the Irish Independent.

"When the Irish team departed for the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984, the athletes were resplendent in green Irish linen jackets and beige linen pants and skirts," he recalls.

"When the airplane landed in San Diego, you could have used the uniforms for dish cloths, such was the ragged order of the material after a nine hour flight.

"Nevertheless, my first Olympic Games turned out to be a spectacular event, full of glamour and Hollywood glitz that only LA could deliver.

Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic Flame. Brooke Shields waved an Irish flag at the opening ceremony and Jane Fonda held a barbeque for the team.

"The icing on the cake was when John Treacy delivered his superb silver medal run on the last day of competition."

In Seoul four years later, he was Chef de Mission and reckoned he 'knew' the country because he was a regular visitor to Japan for judo competitions.

"How wrong I was. Korea turned out to be a very special place, with very friendly and hospitable people, with different cuisine - the 'Irish' of Asia."

Boxers took the limelight in Barcelona 1992, with surprises thrown up as only sport can do.

"As we headed to the boxing arena on finals night we all expected Wayne McCullough to take the gold medal but Michael Carruth surprised everyone. The partying went long into the night.

"Barcelona is a great example of how an Olympics can leave a legacy of improvement for a city. The beachfront was cleared of warehouses, docks and railway lines and the authorities delivered a very spectacular cityscape that is now the jewel in the crown of Catalonia.

"The Atlanta Olympics were hugely successful for Ireland, thanks to Michelle De Bruin's superb medal wins. President Bill Clinton turned up to support her, much to the chagrin of some of the US swimming team.

"Atlanta also delivered huge support from the Irish diaspora."

Sydney 2000 was bittersweet, beset by controversy but with victories in the arena.

"I have special memories of saying a last goodbye to Irish Olympic legend Bob Tisdall and of presenting the silver medal to Sonia O'Sullivan.

"It also produced tricky moments for me, particularly when, following a media storm over accreditation for a member of his entourage, then Minister for Sport Dr Jim McDaid arrived at the Olympic Village. But everything went smoothly as I believe that you should always fly the flag abroad and leave the in-fighting at home."

Those bittersweet memories remained for the last two Games, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.

"They were notable in different ways. Athlete Jamie Costin broke his back in a road accident and had to be flown home.

Remarkably, the surgeons at Dublin's Mater Hospital sorted him out and he competed in Beijing.

"I have bittersweet memories of Ireland's boxing successes in Beijing. Darren Sutherland was a very special person; the life and soul of the entire team, he lit up Team Ireland's village common- room with his knowledge and enthusiasm.

" I was pleased that his dad, Tony, took up my invitation to participate in the Olympic Torch Relay in his honour."

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