Monday 26 February 2018

Tommy Conlon: The embodiment of a dessicated ideal

'Pat Hickey has known for decades about the towering hypocrisy of the IOC. Imagine even wanting to be part of this organisation?' Photo: PA
'Pat Hickey has known for decades about the towering hypocrisy of the IOC. Imagine even wanting to be part of this organisation?' Photo: PA

Tommy Conlon

Banged up in Bangu prison last Friday, perhaps Pat Hickey will have time to reflect on those other poor unfortunates who also ended up behind bars despite protesting their innocence.

Last summer his long-standing vision for a European Games came to fruition in Baku, capital of the oil-rich country of Azerbaijan. As president of the European Olympic Committee, these games were his baby. The only problem was that nobody in Europe wanted to pay for them. Nobody in old Europe anyway.

Step forward President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. There are some delightful photos of Messrs Hickey and Aliyev online. Together they made it happen. Together they brought the games to Baku.

Some local citizens were unhappy, however. They felt the games were a gigantic propaganda coup for a despotic regime. They felt that a few reigning families would again loot the state's coffers for hundreds of millions of dollars as the estimated $6.5 billion worth of construction got under way.

According to Amnesty International, some of these citizens were harassed, jailed, beaten and tortured in the months before. Lawyers, journalists, activists and NGO workers were among the victims. Their families were menaced too. In August a dissenting journalist was beaten to death by unnamed men.

"It's particularly shocking," said Jane Buchanan of Human Rights Watch, "that the Azerbaijani Government can undertake this kind of dramatic crackdown, literally in the months before it is hosting a major international sporting event."

Uncle Pat didn't appear to find it particularly shocking. He had a bit of business to do. The inaugural European Games would look good on his CV. It would rake in plenty of revenue for the International Olympic Committee. It would burnish his prestige among his fellow executive members of the IOC.

So the games went ahead and Pat was big in Baku. The cherry on top was an award from President Aliyev himself. He was conferred with the Sheref Order of Azerbaijan, no less. Everyone was happy.

To allay any fears that Europe's athletes mightn't turn up, Aliyev decreed that his country would pay all their expenses - some 6,000 of them. "To make it credible," wrote the great Andrew Jennings when the project was still being hatched, "they need thousands of young athletes to show up."

Jennings has devoted much of his fabled journalistic career to investigating the spectacular malfeasance at FIFA and the IOC. "Who can supply them? The most reliable trafficker in young flesh is the IOC. The bulk delivery is being organised by a senior member [Pat Hickey]."

To complete the picture, one needs another picture. This time it's the photo of Hickey alongside Annalise Murphy after she won her silver medal last week in sailing. Murphy is beaming with all the joy and idealism that drives athletes towards their Olympics nirvana. And beside her is the current symbol of the desiccated Olympic ideal.

Murphy has dedicated her young life to sporting success with all the honesty of effort and emotion that she could muster. For the great part of his adult life, Hickey has dedicated himself to reaching the inner sanctums of the International Olympic Committee. Perhaps, like a young seminarian seduced by the allure of the Catholic Church, Hickey once upon a time fell in love with the utopian Olympic myth. But some young priests eventually become cardinals and find themselves turning a blind eye to the hideous behaviour of the institution.

The IOC built its empire on the back of the sweat, tears and talent of the world's gifted youth, one generation after another. They have taken that ocean of innocence and turned it into a stinking swamp. They have taken all that human toil and pain and aspiration, and converted it into a bordello of cynicism and greed.

Read more: State's callous attitude preventing society from reaping benefits of sport

The IOC has been a "trafficker in young flesh" for decades. Athletes like Murphy are merely the poster on the billboard, the wholesome front that conceals the Ilham Aliyevs lurking in the ante-room behind. Just as the Vatican preaches justice while practising injustice, the IOC preaches nobility through sport while practising moral squalor through sport.

Pat Hickey has known for decades about the towering hypocrisy of the IOC. Imagine even wanting to be part of this organisation? What sort of a mindset would even gravitate towards these goons and kleptocrats and tin-pot potentates? But Hickey didn't just turn a blind eye; he actively pursued promotion and prestige within the IOC. He apparently found it to be an amenable environment for his ambitions.

The Olympic Council of Ireland was only a staging post, a Bed & Breakfast joint before reaching the penthouse suites of the world's luxury hotels. So naturally it was entirely fitting that it was in one of these hotels that he received the humiliation of a lifetime.

The sight of an unclothed Hickey greeting the cops at his bedroom door will linger long in the collective memory. But as a metaphor it is almost too easy: a man deluded by his presumptions of power, stripped bare of that power before the eyes of a gawping public.

The type of prisonwear they expect of their inmates in Rio has yet to be established, but the grub is unlikely to be five-star fine dining.

Banged up in Bangu, if he was ever any good at the pole vaulting, now is his time to try for a personal best.

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