Friday 23 February 2018

Shane Ross: Before Rio we were sailing along in a murky fool's paradise

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross

Shane Ross

Sometimes Hamlet can be nearly as good without the prince. Last week, Judge Carroll Moran produced a remarkable report. He managed to paint a clear picture of the inner workings of Pat Hickey's Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) without talking to Pat Hickey.

Mr Hickey was perfectly entitled not to speak to the Moran Inquiry due to the dangers of self-incrimination as he faces trial in Brazil. Judge Moran was equally entitled to decide to write a report with one hand tied behind his back.

I am not the judiciary's favourite politician these days, but I can unequivocally praise this judge for his decision to proceed. His report is full of fresh material. He may not have spoken to Hickey, but he took evidence from key staff at the OCI, directors of the Olympic body, employees of Sport Ireland, athletes and ordinary punters with complaints about the activities of Ireland's Olympic leaders last year. And he unveiled a treasure trove of emails, unseen until the report's release last Monday.

He had plenty of evidence, certainly enough to outline a grim narrative, much of it new. He deeply disappointed the debunkers who were longing for him to fail. He outed the old guard at the OCI.

Judge Moran interviewed many of those close enough to Hickey to break useful new ground. His narrative on the crux of the controversy, the ticket company set up (Pro10) to replace the company rejected by the Brazilian authorities (THG), was telling. On page 160 of the report he prints a compelling piece of evidence from Hickey's personal assistant, Linda O'Reilly. She "agreed that while Pro10 was appointed as the Authorised Ticket Reseller (ATR), control remained with THG and Marcus Evans, and she agreed it would appear that Pro10 was effectively a front or cover to allow Marcus Evans and THG to remain in the picture".

The report gathered enough evidence to assert that the same Pro10 company was "not a genuine ATR". Moran wrote of the "concealed" relationship between THG and Pro10. He documents this with a mixture of uncontested emails and independent witnesses.

Moran revealed an outfit with a shambolic corporate governance operation. Evidence gathered from Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin, an executive committee member of the OCI, was unambiguous. Ó Catháin told Moran there was "absolutely no discussion at any meeting that I was at around either THG or Pro10 or ticketing". Ó Catháin was staggered by Hickey's failure to bring the Rio Organising Committee's refusal to approve THG to the Executive Committee. He repeated the reaction: "I think it's quite amazing that it wasn't brought to the Executive for an input or for decision". Hickey's successor, Sarah Keane, confirms Ó Catháin's evidence. The OCI was a corporate governance basketcase under Hickey.

Moran documents this with the words of independent witnesses. His report confirms with concrete evidence what we had all feared: the old OCI was more than an embarrassment. The lack of corporate governance had real world consequences. These consequences for the athletes, their families and for ordinary Irish spectators at the Olympics were catastrophic. Moran described the ticketing arrangements as "chaotic".

The judge interviewed victims of the Pro10 /THG escapade. Some told stories of being unable to obtain tickets, others that they could not contact Pro10 at all. The sham company was almost a phantom operation or, as Hickey's PA agreed, a "front" or a "cover".

The emails unearthed by Moran were explosive. Many of them were exchanges between the two biggest actors in the play, Hickey and Marcus Evans, the owner of THG. The duo may not have actively co-operated, but thanks to Moran, we are aware of their activities. Their emails revealed contact long after Hickey maintained it had ended. Moran stressed it was "difficult to reconcile" the contents and very existence of the emails with Hickey's "apparent attempt to conceal his relationship with Marcus Evans, the Marcus Evans Group or THG in the television interview broadcast on RTÉ on August 11, 2016. This was a denial of any contact between the OCI and THG since the Sochi Olympic Games in February 2014."

Enough evidence has been unveiled to justify immediate and radical action. We do not know the provenance nor the final destination of some of the tickets provided by the OCI to Pro10. We do know many of the OCI's tickets landed in the wrong hands. We know too that Pro10/THG reaped vast profits. On page 84 of the report it shows how one package for ten hospitality tickets in an executive club for the Opening Ceremony, the men's 100m final and for the Closing Ceremony cost the princely sum of $159,500 - supposedly without tickets to either event. Most importantly, we know that families of Olympic competitors suffered as a result.

We know all this without as much as a hint of assistance from Hickey or any of the others who declined to co-operate with the inquiry. Moran was not mandated to unearth criminal activity. He rightly restricted himself to the Rio games, leaving the investigation of the London Olympics for another day.

He has delivered. The debunkers, disappointed at the thoroughness of the report, are demanding a statutory inquiry. Down that road lies a litany of court cases, lawyers galore, fees running into millions and delay. It offers no more evidence than the Moran report has already unearthed.

Moran has given us the tools for radical reform of the OCI. It is already happening. Pat Hickey is no longer in office. Sarah Keane's OCI has eagerly embraced all 25 corporate governance recommendations from the Deloitte report. The guard has changed at Ireland's Olympian Palace.

Post-Moran the athletes, their families and Irish supporters - our noble but discarded ambassadors overseas - must never be treated so badly again. There remain a few obstacles ahead, not least ticket reconciliation statements from both London and Rio, but we have identified them. Pre-Rio we were sailing along in a murky fool's paradise. Today we have seen the warts on the skin of the Olympic body exposed. We can now, with the benefit of Moran, look forward to a reformed Olympic Council. The prospects for Tokyo are brighter. Hamlet didn't need the prince.

  • Shane Ross is Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport