Saturday 25 January 2020

Roy Curtis: News of Pat Hickey's arrest is a seismic moment in Irish Olympic sport

OCI president Pat Hickey was arrested in Rio
OCI president Pat Hickey was arrested in Rio

Roy Curtis

AND the gold medal for randomly detonating, increasingly outrageous, bewilderingly scattergun, stop-all-the-clocks Rio 2016 bombshells goes to…Ireland.

Even the majestic soapstone figure of Christ the Redeemer, the 635-ton Art Deco leviathan stretching, arms outsretched, above Corcovado toward the roof of the world, seems suddenly small next to the monster news of OCI President Pat Hickey’s arrest.   

Is this all a dream?

Brazil’s claustrophobic favelas are hardly as suffocating, as chaotic, as unrelentingly fevered as the storyline of Team Ireland in and around the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.

This is a narrative with Hunter S Thompson’s fingerprints all over it:  Fear and Loathing in Amazonia. 

Even before this morning’s jaw-dropping news of the dawn arrest at a hotel in the Barra da Tijuca of perhaps the most powerful man in Irish sport, the hold the front page moments have been floating down like emerald confetti onto the sun-kissed sands of the Copacabana. 

An explosive ticketing scandal that leaves a government minister traipsing semi-bewildered and apparently impotent around Rio’s well-heeled suburbs?  Tick.

A failed drug test, the spreading bushfires from which could hardly have been more grotesquely mismanaged, more incompetently hosed if some Celtic cousins of Inspector Clouseau and Guy Fawkes had been doing the firefighting? Tick.

The nation’s two great gold medal hopes, Katie Taylor and Michael Conlan, exiting amid teary, expletive-ridden, nation-convulsing allegations of systemically corrupt officiating. Tick.

Ireland’s most famous international sportsman, Rory McIlroy, declining to compete amid a swirl of stories about corporate finance, national identity and angry mosquitoes.  Tick.

It is true, of course, that there have been hugely upbeat tales of glory.

The O’Donovan brothers and Annalise Murphy presented a damburst of high achievement that cascaded across the nation like a Niagara of joy, stirring and redemptive.

That they reached out for the heavens of achievement and carried so many with them has offered the same thrilling surge that Robbie Brady delivered in Lille, an identikit unforgettable rhapsody to that delivered by Kilkenny and Waterford in Thurles last Saturday.

Yet still, Ireland’s journey through this past fortnight has been ushered down some dark, unpleasant alleys. 

Now, just when we assumed we had reached peak scandal, when we were about to scream full-house in the game of astonishing Olympic-revelations bingo, comes the news that Ireland’s Mister Olympics, the Blazer to whom all other Blazers defer, is the subject of an arrest warrant. 

Hickey was detained early this morning at the Hotel Windsor Marapendi – a sumptuous, every-imaginable-frill paradise reserved these past weeks for the Olympic family elite – over his alleged involvement in the Rio ticketing controversy.

Police say they have evidence Mr Hickey was part of the scheme that earlier saw an Irish citizen Kevin Mallon arrested after 781 OCI tickets for the games were found in the hands of THG, the British company of which Mr Mallon was a director.

Brazilian authorities seized the tickets which they claim were being sold on the black market at prices of up to £7,200.

THG and Mr Hickey emphatically denied any impropriety.

Sports Minister Shane Ross subsequently flew to Rio and was “stunned” when Hickey turned down his request for an independent presence on the in-house, three-man committee the Olympic Council of Ireland established to investigate the matter.

The volume of political outrage rose several decibels toward an angry, power-playing crescendo.

Demands for a cessation of OCI public funding, which exceeded E500,000 this past year, accompanied calls for Hickey to be hauled before the Dail’s Public Accounts Committee.

Now events have galloped on as rapidly as Usain Bolt charging down the blue-topped Olympic track. Hickey’s arrest was immediately followed by the 71-year-old’s transfer to a Rio hospital after he reportedly fell ill upon his detention.

And now, to borrow a 26-year-old phrase from George Hamilton's nation, a nation holds its breath. Rio’s iconic statue is dwarfed by the sheer scale of the unfolding drama.

Even the judges who drew Michael Conlan’s wrath couldn’t, at their most one-eyed, mistake this for anything other than a stupefying sequence of events

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