Tuesday 22 October 2019

Crowning glory that soon turned into a nightmare

Relatives of inmates queue outside Bangu prison in Rio. Photo: Steve Humphreys.
Relatives of inmates queue outside Bangu prison in Rio. Photo: Steve Humphreys.

Cathal McMahon in Rio

It should have been the crowning glory of one of our most successful Olympics yet. The Closing Ceremony in Rio's iconic Maracanã Stadium last Sunday was to be an opportunity to parade the silver medals won by sailor Annalise Murphy and the gregarious O'Donovan brothers in front of the world's cameras before the homecoming parties.

No doubt Pat Hickey was looking forward to watching on from his executive seat in the stands with a sense of pride. Instead, the former Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) chief was locked in a cell at Brazil's largest and most notorious prison - with a freshly shaved head and only co-accused Kevin Mallon to look at.

Stephen Martin, OCI chief executive (right), and Kevin Kilty, OCI chef de mission (left), leaving Police City after giving a
deposition in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Stephen Martin, OCI chief executive (right), and Kevin Kilty, OCI chef de mission (left), leaving Police City after giving a deposition in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Steve Humphreys

His lawyer, Simone Kamenetz, says he feels like his "reputation and dignity" have been thrown away.

Mr Hickey didn't even get a chance to watch rower Gary O'Donovan defiantly wave the Tricolour in the driving rain for several hours, as a television is not one of the privileges he has been afforded behind bars.

But he wasn't the only OCI executive feeling the heat on that wet and windy night.

Just a few hours earlier, fellow OCI committee members Kevin Kilty, Stephen Martin and Dermot Henihan were woken early to the dreaded sight of Rio's Civil Police unit.

These things are done differently in Brazil and officers Ronaldo Oliveira, Ricardo Barboza de Sousa and their industrious squad had come armed with search warrants.

Judge Letícia D'Aiuto de Moraes Ferreira Michelli had given the orders to seize the men's phones, computers and, most importantly, passports after they were "mentioned by Patrick Joseph Hickey in his testimony to the police".

Stripped of their possessions, Mr Kilty, Mr Henihan and Mr Martin, who gained the unenviable title of the 'OCI 3', had to reschedule their flights and change hotels. On Monday morning, most of Rio de Janeiro was enjoying a well-earned slumber after two weeks of Olympic partying.

Mr Kilty and Mr Martin, however, donned their official Team Ireland tracksuits and took an official Rio car to a Windsor hotel in the city.

Mr Kilty told the Irish Independent that he was "absolutely shocked and amazed" by what had happened in the previous five days.

Read more: Pat Hickey family 'gravely concerned' - have requested meetings with ministers and Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Read more: 'My situation is Kafkaesque,' says Pat Hickey from his prison cell

The clay pigeon shooter, who rarely missed a shot during his sporting career, struggled to understand how he had, himself, become a target for Rio police.

Despite this he was still putting on a brave face while pondering future accommodation. "We are staying here tonight, who knows where we will be staying tomorrow?" he joked.

Their colleague, Mr Henihan, who had been checked on by doctors the previous night, met them inside the reception.

The Limerick man, who has dedicated his life to rowing, should have been basking in the reflected glory of a landmark silver medal in the Olympics for his sport. Instead, he was cowering in the hotel lobby, dodging press cameras and the disdainful glares of other National Olympic Committee (NOC) executives.

He would tell the 'Limerick Leader' later in the week that he was "feeling fine, but just very tired" after the events of the week.

It would be Tuesday before Rio would truly wake up from its Olympics hangover.

Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief, had told the media last Sunday that Mr Hickey would appear in court on Tuesday and the 'OCI 3' were scheduled for a 2pm appointment with police at the Cidade de Polícia in the northern suburb of Jacaré.

As it transpired, Mr Hickey's case was buried amongst 800 others that had been allowed to gather dust while the Rio Olympics were taking place, and Mr Henihan alone arrived to meet with police.

A day which promised massive developments in this juggernaut story looked like burning out before it began.

Then the Rio Civil Police, who have a unique take on the concept of due process, pulled out another bombshell.

This time it came in the form of two A4 sheets which police claimed showed email contact between Mr Hickey and THG owner Marcus Evans dating back to 2010.

Mr Evans's ticket sales company was the Authorised Ticket Reseller (ATR) for the OCI at the London Olympics in 2012 and the Winter Games in Sochi two years later. THG's application to be the ATR for the 2016 games was rejected by the Rio authorities.

Police allege that THG director Kevin Mallon was attempting to tout tickets, issued to the OCI for the Rio Olympics, when they arrested him on August 5.

The Rio police displayed emails which they claim prove that Mr Hickey offered tickets to Mr Evans for the 2016 Olympics Opening and Closing ceremonies.

Officer Aloysio Falcao dropped the sheets on the table and confusion from the press was followed by a feeding frenzy, leading to sounds of furious keyboard bashing around the well-used press centre in Police City.

As the week developed, further mystery and conjecture was added to the story. The 'OCI 3' were told they were witnesses, not suspects, but the police continued to hold onto their passports.

This was all bad news for Mr Hickey and Mr Mallon, as they continue to stare at the four walls of a prison cell this weekend.

Sylviane Hickey will be forced to celebrate her 67th birthday today separated from her husband by 9,188km, the Atlantic Ocean, the equator, and the guards at Bangu prison.

Meanwhile, Paul O'Donovan is continuing to defiantly fly the flag for Ireland and will compete in the World Championship final in Rotterdam today.

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