Wednesday 29 January 2020

Profile: A black belt in judo, Hickey has fought off attempts to take him on

Iron grip: OCI president Pat Hickey. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Iron grip: OCI president Pat Hickey. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

A divisive figure in Irish sport, Pat Hickey has had a stranglehold on the Irish Olympic scene for nigh-on 30 years.

The 71-year-old from Phibsborough has seen off any would-be competitors for his position in a manner that sits neatly with his black belt in judo.

Hickey represented Ireland on the international stage for many years.

When he donned an official blazer, he utilised those same katame-waza, or grappling, techniques - to safeguard his authority.

As Sports Minister, Jim McDaid was among those who tried, in vain, to take Hickey down - and there have been numerous clashes with the Irish Sports Council.

But he is popular amongst his international peers.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach greeted him as "my dear friend" at the General Assembly of the European Olympic Council (EOC), while Sebastian Coe of the British Olympic Association has praised him for his forthright nature.

"What you see is what you get with Pat," said Coe.

"He wouldn't say anything behind your back that he wouldn't say to your face."

In interviews, Hickey has joked that he's a bit like Roy Keane - half of the country likes him and the other half doesn't.

He expressed a belief that any unpopularity stems from the Sydney Olympics, when he was very "vocal".

"I attacked the government, I really lashed into them and a lot of the establishment didn't like that. I'm at the stage where there is no one attacking me, they are probably saying, 'leave him alone, it's not worth it because you will get defeated'," he wryly quipped.

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Hickey was the Irish delegate to the EOC.

The formation of those 15 new countries coincided with Dublin hosting the EOC General Assembly and he forged connections, becoming "very popular in the east of Europe, more so than in the west".

Hickey ran for the executive board of the EOC at that meeting and was elected.

Over the years he has moved up the ranks - senior executive board member of the IOC, senior vice-president of the Association of National Olympic Committees and president of the EOC.

He has expressed a view that being Irish helped him on his journey through the world of sports politics because: "Paddy is Paddy. We are neutral, we have no baggage and we are an island, and I was able to float in between the different politics."

In the last number of years, he spearheaded the idea of the European Games because we were the "only continent with no games" - and sold the idea to Azerbaijan - after hitting it off with the authorities there at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Hickey considered it his 'legacy' - but the games which took place in Baku last June were said to be of a poor standard.

They also took place against a backdrop of human rights violations in Azerbaijan and allegations of corruption, leading to speculation that the games might not be held again.

Irish Independent

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