From top: Sonia O’Sullivan at the Atlanta Games 1996; Fr Liam Kelleher at the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics

Readers may recall the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

It was the year Cork athlete Sonia O’Sullivan was forced to strip naked in front of other athletes in order to change her running gear – from Reebok to Asics – in the tunnel next to the track just before her 5,000m heat.

It happened amid a row between the Olympic Council of Ireland, who had a reported £75,000 deal with Reebok, and the then national athletics organisation Bord Lúthchleas na hÉireann (BLE), who had a contract with Asics.

It was reported at the time that Pat Hickey, of the OCI, personally told Sonia she could wear her gear from Reebok – with whom she had a sponsorship deal – even though BLE had registered the Asics strip as the official Irish team strip three days before the competition began.

Following the incident, Mr Hickey held a press conference on the issue – which was attended by Ms O’Sullivan.

Further to this, Cork priest and long-time athletics coach, Fr Liam Kelleher, who was national PRO for BLE at the time, writes:

Pat Hickey has done some fantastic work which cannot be denied but his obsession for power has finally been his undoing.

I have known him since 1972, from my first Olympic Games in Munich all of 44 years ago, and I was not happy with the antics that happened in Atlanta in 1996 during the “Sonia saga” which again was well documented at the time.

I was Press Officer for the then Irish athletic organisation BLE and was totally embarrassed by what transpired.

I saw Sonia dragged to the press conferences after the gear-changing, controversy which must have adversely affected her performance, and remember being acutely sorry for her having to try to give answers to the assembled media.

What really transpired we will probably never know.

I was hugely upset too, and when I returned to Ireland, I resigned my position as National Press Officer of BLE.

I went on national radio on the News at One, then with Seán O’Rourke to explain my reasons. My great friend Frank Greally [of Irish Runner magazine] covered the issue with five pages on Irish Runner with title “Pastor departs”. It was written by Sean McGoldrick whom I actually met at the stadium in Rio last week.

At that time, in 1996, I issued a broadside against the Olympic Council of Ireland which made banner headlines in the papers and for which I was castigated, in many parts, for being way off the mark.

But, I got huge support from people in the know.

One thing I said and wrote was: “The Olympic Council of Ireland are democratically elected by nobody, are answerable to nobody and dictate to everybody.”

So, you can see, the warning signs were there 20 years ago, if they were heeded.

My outburst came at a cost. Four years later, at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, there was no way I could get a press pass – which had to be signed by the President of the OCI [Pat Hickey] – to cover the events for Marathon Athletics Magazine which I had been publishing since 1984.

In Sydney, I tried every day for six days in a row with the help of Frank Greally from Irish Runner and John O’Sullivan [Sonia’s father] but no joy.

Tickets were impossible to get so I was resigned to watching it on TV. Two hours before Sonia was due to run, I was with Frank Greally when Pat Hickey passed by.

Frank said,’Now is your last chance, bury your pride and go and ask him’, but I turned down Frank’s plea. We went again to the press accreditation centre  put a bundle of magazines on the table and, to her eternal credit, the lady at the desk who at this stage must have been fed-up with me, decided to ring the communication chief and he gave the OK.

To my knowledge, it was the only accreditation given out without the signature of the President.

If I were asked now about the Olympic Council, I would have mixed views.The obvious one has to be transparency, and too much power must never again be the domain of any individual.

What do I think of Pat Hickey now?

I genuinely feel sorry for him as I stated at the outset he did a fantastic amount of work, he moved in high places with people like Russian President Putin numbered as one of his allies and goodness knows how many more, who can do little to help him now.

He is obviously suffering huge trauma and distress and if we want to put it in terms of punishment perhaps this is enough and let him go free. He has paid a huge price already.

Pics: Getty/FrKelleher

Previously: Calling It

51 thoughts on “Fading Memories

  1. Tish Mahorey

    “He is obviously suffering huge trauma and distress and if we want to put it in terms of punishment perhaps this is enough and let him go free. He has paid a huge price already.”

    The classic sympathy line there. Oh the poor man is terribly embarrassed, the worst punishment for the well heeled. You often hear in Judges summaries at the end of trials of their old school mates caught with their hands in the till. Shame replaces a jail sentence.

    1. Cup of Tea anyone

      Thats like something straight out of Fr Ted.

      He’s lost the trust of his sheep. That’s punishment enough for a farmer who deals primarily…with sheep.

    2. realPolithicks

      If the guy have committed the acts he’s being accused of, then he should do time in jail.

    3. Clampers Outside!

      In fairness, you also hear…
      “Jaysus Johnny, you’re up here for the sixteenth time in under a year, what’s it for now… and what did I tell you the last two or three times. I told you ‘I’d lock you up, and I might have to….”

      My own… about 15 to 20 years ago went something like this…. drunk n’ disorderly and abusing a Garda whom I called a “useless fupper anyhow”…
      Judge: “I’m sick of lads like you, nice family, all the breaks, went to college…. you have all the support in the world, what do ya have to say for yourself?”
      Me: “I, em…. well ’em… my legal is outside court on the phone your honor” [I coulda killed him for disappearing just as I was called]
      Judge: “What? Tell him, it’s a €500 fine for a court named charity and three months probation”
      *smacks hammer*… “Next!”

  2. An Emotional Tish

    I admire this man’s compassion. But the Phickey’s gonna do a 5 stretch minimum. Well deserved.

    1. Iwerzon

      You’re probably right, the politicios will be scrambling to get him home and that poor hoor of a young Irish fella locked up in Egypt – ah, sure that’s different isn’t it.

  3. Owen

    “I stated at the outset he did a fantastic amount of work”. Think of how much more work could have been done, and how much better money could have been spent if he was not a corrupt bumhole.

    Zero sympathy for him. If he was never at the helm of the IOC would we be a better Olympic nation? The answer, I feel, is yes. More people at events, better directed finances, better development programs etc etc. Who cares if he is pals with Putin!

    1. manolo

      A similar ticket scheme over the last four world cups generated €70 million per tournament. This figure was confessed by the gang involved and I have no idea how it would compare with the potential of the olympics. How much was the OCI pension worth it?

    2. Joe Small

      I understood that he doesn’t get the OCI president’s salary and just claims expenses. In that case there is no OCI pension. Does anyone know better?

    3. Tish Mahorey

      “Take his OCI pension off him.”

      Not that simple. People are entitled to the pension they pay into. It’s a contract.

  4. forfeckssake

    His association with Putin is not a reason to feel sorry for him or to admire him. Russia have done huge damage to the Olympics for a start. Maybe if Hickey is convicted could do his time in one of Putin’s Siberian gulags.

    The idea that Pat Hickey should be let off the hook is insane.

    1. forfeckssake

      And I am certain if the shoe was on the other foot Pat Hickey would have been delighted to have see this journalist who crossed him jailed.

      1. forfeckssake

        I know I’m replying to myself twice but the attitude of this journalist who wants to let Pat Hickey off is exactly the kind of attitude that allowed Pat Hickey to become a controlling tyrant in the first place.

          1. Clampers Outside!

            “and long-time athletics coach, Fr Liam Kelleher, who was national PRO for BLE”

            I’m sure he knows how to write at least, if he got the PRO position.
            Just sayin’

  5. MoyestWithExcitement

    “he moved in high places with people like Russian President Putin numbered as one of his allies”

    Poor Mick Conlan.

    1. Daisy Chainsaw

      Your name is heard in high places. You know Comrade Putin
      He (allegedly) gave you a [redacted for legal reasons] for Christmas and you keep it (allegedly) just for fun
      For a laugh, aha ha ha

      Where do you go to my lovely, when you’re alone in your bed?
      I know the thoughts that surround you, I can look inside your head.”

  6. Daisy Chainsaw

    Naah, leave him in El Pokey Del Rio for a while longer. I want to see the Hickey Family press release through the Hickey Family Solicitor where it talks about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse being seen in the Rio area, casing Frail Old Pat’s cell

  7. MyName?

    Why didn’t she just wear the right outfit in the first place and this wouldn’t have happened. She should be more interested in winning the running race than what she is wearing and looking nice.

  8. Junkface

    Set him free? No charges? F off father! He’s broken Brazilian law, he should be punished like anybody else.

    This softly, softly approach from some people in Ireland is infuriating. It feeds future corruption as there are no consequences.

  9. Spaghetti Hoop

    “….he moved in high places with people like Russian President Putin numbered as one of his allies…”.

    If Putin equates to “high places”.

  10. some old queen

    “….he moved in high places with people like Russian President Putin numbered as one of his allies…”

    And therein lies the problem I suspect.

  11. Truth in the News

    Who is going to dissolve the Irish Olymplic Council and start anew, incidently
    did John Delany go to Rio or did he give it a miss.

  12. :-Joe

    Fupp the establishment cronyism and fupp the perverted moralising of the catholic church.

    Hickey should do time, all the perks revoked and if he can’t repay what he stole then seize his assets just like any other criminal should expect.

    It is not the government that will be responsible for failing to follow through on justice but it will be the lack of action by WE the citizens in demanding that it be done.

    Same auld fuppin’ story……. scumbags everywhere, running wild and free…

    Balh, blah, blah, everybody cares till they have to do something about it…


    1. :-Joe

      Ooops.. I meant to just say ” THANK god FOR MENTAL ILLNESS “but I got carried away with it all…

      Ok, I’m ignoring this clown’s story from now on, unless he sees the error of his ways and seeks true forgiveness and repentence with all the people he made suffer over the years. Just like the good catholic servant to christ that Kelleher thinks he should be viewed as.

      Peace and love to all, be good or be good at it…


  13. Frilly Keane

    Sorry Father

    But I hope Pat Hickey rots there
    And leaves Rio a broken man

    And when he dies his family has to get a VdeP cheque to bury him

    So don’t pray for my lack of forgiveness Father
    And don’t pray for my lack of compassion

    Pat Hickey is nowhere near the level of penance he needs to serve

    Much like many of your own bosses and colleagues in fact

    I’m done on forgiveness and compassion for tyrants, and for bullies, and greedy self serving con artists like Pat Hickey, and likewise, all their associates and connections that feed from the same foul source.

    The very same durty players and sly crafty abusers who, and not coincidentally BTW, are subsequently protected by the Institutions that aided and enabled their grubby rise on the back of amateurs, innocents, and volunteers.

    Fûck him
    You along with him
    And his Family

    Just who da’ûck do you think you are sermonizing the Irish public like this?

    The fûçking nerve of the lot’ve ye

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