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Pat Hickey's lawyers asked Oireachtas committee to not discuss Rio Olympics

Minister for Sport Shane Ross has said Irish athletes were treated ‘shambolically’ in terms of ticket allocation.

Minister Shane Ross at the committee today
Minister Shane Ross at the committee today

Updated 2.20pm

THE OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE on sport has said it intends to “fulfil its parliamentary mandate” to discuss the report by Justice Carroll Moran into the distribution of tickets for the Rio Olympics.

Responding to legal representatives for former Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) president Pat Hickey, the committee said it has “rejected the request that it refrain from undertaking its inquiry into the Rio ticketing controversy pending the outcome of the criminal trial in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil”.

Committee chair Fergus O’Dowd said the meeting taking place today “is not an inquiry”.

“It is the view of the committee that assertions by Mr Hickey’s legal representatives that the committee’s deliberations are wrong in law and seriously undermine their client’s rights are without foundation.

“The joint committee intents to fulfil its parliamentary mandate to consider and report on all relevant matters to both Houses and is proceeding with consideration of the matter.”

Earlier, Minister for Sport Shane Ross told the committee the treatment of Ireland’s athletes in terms of ticket allocation last year was “shambolic”.

Controversy engulfed Irish sport last August when Hickey and Kevin Mallon of The Hospitality Group (THG) were arrested in Rio as part of an investigation into an alleged ticket touting scandal.

Justice Moran’s report, which was published on Monday, made no findings on whether any laws had been broken. Legal proceedings involving THG and Hickey are currently ongoing in Brazil. Both deny any wrongdoing.

Moran said THG, Hickey, Pro10 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not engage fully with the investigation.

The report found that throughout the Rio Games there were multiple issues with Ireland’s Authorised Ticket Reseller (ATR) Pro10 and the oversight of the OCI.

THG was to be the ATR for the OCI during Rio 2016, however it was rejected by the Rio Organising Committee. This led to the company Pro10 being appointed.

The report states that Hickey did not tell the OCI’s executive committee about the rejection of THG or the appointment of Pro10.

Commercial interests 

Ross told the committee: “I was struck, reading the report, by the extent to which the commercial interests of The Hospitality Group/Pro10 and the OCI were Mr Hickey’s number one priority.

The athletes, their relations and Irish supporters were a poor second. 
The OCI went to great lengths to secure high-value tickets for resale by these companies.

“For some reason they fought tooth and nail to convince the Rio Organising Committee and the International Olympic Committee to accept THG’s appointment as authorised ticket reseller, with Mr Hickey drawing on his extensive contacts within the IOC in pursuit of that goal.

When that company was rejected, Mr Hickey, Marcus Evans of THG and others collaborated to create the sham of Pro10, whose sole purpose was to disguise the rejected THG’s continued involvement in ticket sales. According to Judge Moran’s report Hickey’s personal assistant agreed that Pro10 was effectively a ‘cover’ and a ‘front’ to allow Marcus Evans and THG to remain in the picture.

Ross said Justice Moran doesn’t “mince his words” when talking about “Hickey’s apparent attempt to conceal his relationship with Marcus Evans, the Marcus Evans Group or THG in his denial in the television interview on RTE”.

“Judge Moran said this was hard to reconcile with the email trail between the two men. Sham companies do not deliver.

And when the crisis broke last August, with the arrest of Kevin Mallon, they tried to cover up their actions, with the OCI and the companies issuing public statements that we know now to be false, most notably in an interview Pat Hickey gave to RTÉ News.

Ross noted that Justice Moran describes Pro10’s service to its customers as “inadequate and chaotic”. He said the report “sets out multiple failings in its operations, which were to be expected from a company with no prior experience of ticket sales for a major sporting event”.

“It is true that these arrangements created a lucrative stream of income for the OCI and its programmes to support Irish athletes. Nothing in this report suggests that individuals in the OCI were benefiting personally from these arrangements.

“But clearly commercial interests can never again be afforded priority over the interests of athletes, their friends and families, and ordinary spectators. I regret that the OCI under the leadership of Pat Hickey defied this doctrine,” Ross added.

Lack of oversight 

Ross said the leadership of the OCI, and in particular Hickey, “operated almost entirely without oversight”.

“The board was little more than a rubber stamp on decisions taken by the president. There is evidence in this report that information of the highest importance was withheld from them by Mr Hickey, such as the rejection of THG’s application to be the authorised ticket reseller.

“Functions of the council’s board, treasurer and chief executive were transferred to the president. It was utterly inappropriate that they had no role whatsoever in the process of negotiating ticketing agreements which attracted rights fees of up to $1 million (about €855,000).

“These agreements were negotiated and approved by one man, Pat Hickey, and we have learned since the inquiry concluded that the agreements he signed with THG extend well into the future.

The circumstances of the honorarium to the president also raise serious concerns. The amount paid to Mr Hickey (€60,000 per annum) was far in excess of what might reasonably be considered an honorarium. Indeed, Judge Moran notes that the payment may have been in breach of the OCI’s Memorandum and Articles of Association.

Ross said he is “heartened” that the partly reconstructed OCI has “embraced the need to fundamentally reform its corporate governance regime”.

“I know they have made great strides under the shadow of this report, guided by the new president Sarah Keane, the new executive committee and the refreshed council.

“Nevertheless I find it greatly troubling that, were it not for the events of last August, these failings may never have come to light. If the OCI’s Investigating Panel, championed by Hickey, had been accepted as the investigator, rather than the Moran Inquiry, the mind boggles at the possible findings,” Ross stated.

‘Unreserved apology’

Justice Moran’s report found widespread failings on behalf of the OCI, which resulted in family members and members of the public not being able to avail of the tickets that were earmarked for them.

During the Games, there were numerous reports of athlete’s family members having to go to other countries in order to secure tickets for events. Other reports said family members were queuing up in Rio to try to get tickets before events.

This is despite the OCI having previously guaranteed that each athlete in most events would be given two free tickets for family members. Justice Moran’s report said Pro10 was “not fit for purpose” and incapable of handling the demand.

Speaking after the publication of the report, Sarah Keane, president of the OCI, gave an “unreserved apology” to athletes and their families.

It’s obvious that athletes, families and the Irish sporting public were very upset by what went on in Rio and I wish again to give an unreserved apology to them for any of the failings in Rio that affected them.

“They deserve nothing less and I’m doing that on behalf of myself personally and the OCI executive committee,” Keane said.

She will appear before the committee this afternoon.

‘Watertight contract’

THG was the ATR for Ireland during the 2012 London Games and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Earlier this week it emerged that the OCI is locked into a “pretty watertight” contract with THG which gives the company ticket reselling rights for the 2018, 2020, 2022, 2024 and 2026 Olympic and Winter Olympic Games.

“My understanding is that there is a clause in the agreement that the fact the THG might not have been approved for a previous Games does not impact on the contract for the future Games.

“So it’s pretty watertight contract in that regard so we just need to consider it legally and look at it going forward,” Keane said.

She stated that this agreement had been signed by Hickey and THG in January 2016, and had only come to the attention of the executive board in recent weeks.

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics organising committee has withdrawn approval for THG to act as the ATR there.

With reporting by Cormac Fitzgerald

Comments are closed due to ongoing legal proceedings.

Read: Olympic Council of Ireland locked into contract with company at centre of Rio ticketing scandal until 2026

Read: Rio 2016 lawyer thinks Irish inquiry emails ‘may have been marked as spam’

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Órla Ryan

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