From top: David Walsh; The Sunday Independent, March 24, 1996
Few openly challenged Pat Hickey.
Sportswriter and Lance Armstrong nemesis David Walsh was one.
Twenty years ago, in the Sunday Independent, Mr Walsh, wrote:
Is there anybody out there who cares?
On, Friday, March 1 , the President of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) Pat Hickey said that Roy Douglas, chief executive of Irish Permanent Building Society, was his personal guest at the 1990 World Cup in the US.
The trip, according to Hickey, had nothing to do with the OCI. At the time, this newspaper, wrote that Douglas’s hotel bills at the World Cup were paid by the OCI.
On Tuesday morning last, March 19, Pat Hickey admitted in an RTE interview that Douglas’s hotel bills in the US were paid by the OCI. If Douglas was Hickey’s personal guest at the World Cup, why did the OCI take care of his hotel bills?
At a prestigious OCI banquet in December 1994, 48 Irish Permanent people were guests at a function where most of those present paid £30 for their tickets.
Quizzed about this unusually high representation from one company, Hickey says that the OCI were working with the Irish Permanent on a “special deal” to provide permanent headquarters for the Olympic movement in Ireland.
Around this time the OCI were also negotiating with two other companies, AIB and a Shannon-based leasing firm, for the purpose of acquiring permanent headquarters.
Neither AIB nor the leasing company were issued with anything like that number of free tickets: the AIB (official OCI sponsors then and now) got six, the leasing company did not get any.
Hickey has never offered a convincing explanation for the presence of so many Irish Permanent people at that OCI banquet.
Other aspects of the president’s performance raise important questions. Even though the OCI has a marketing subcommittee; Hickey personally negotiated a sponsorship deal with Opel which secured the use of an Opel Omega for himself until the end of the year.
The other elements of the deal are that Opel provide visiting dignitaries with cars while they are in Ireland and Opel, through its parent company General Motors, will provide cars for the Irish team at pre-Olympic training in, Fort Lauderdale and then at the Games in Atlanta.
Questions have also been asked about the OCI’s level of administrative spending. This newspaper sought, details of credit card payments for 1995 (five officers have OCI Visa cards) but the president refused to make them available.
Two members of the current OCI executive committee, former Olympian Brendan O’Connell and hockey administrator David Balbirnie, have asked that John Purcell, the Comptroller and Auditor General, be brought in to examine the accounts of the Olympic Council of Ireland.
O’Connell and Balbirnie insist that administrative spending is not properly recorded and receipted.
Last year the OCI received in excess of £lm of taxpayers’ money. O’Connell and Balbirnie have written to Purcell, formally suggesting that he look at accounting procedures in the OCI.
Given that the Comptroller and Auditor General exists to serve the taxpayer, it would be a surprise if he did not want te examine the OCI books.
Pat Hickey agreed to pay the travel and accommodation costs of Sports Minister Bernard Allen’s children while the Minister was on OCI business in Atlanta last Easter [along with the minister’s private secretary Austin Mallon and his wife].
Hickey insists that the ‘expenditure’ on the Minister’s family was miniscule and that ‘the rewards’ were great but what matters here is not the amount but the principle.
Funded by the taxpayer, the OCI should not be paying for the flights of the Minister’s children and,the Minister should not have allowed it to happen.
In other democracies, this would lead to resignations but not everyone here is overly concerned.
Fianna Fáil, the main opposition party, has not uttered a word of protest. Does this mean they approve of a Minister’s family, holiday being part-funded by the taxpayer?
Hickey’s leadership style has led to many personality conflicts.
As well as alienating fellow executive committee members, Balbirnie and O’Connell, there is a rift between. Hickey and the OCI’s fundraisihg committee in Atlanta.
In a Morning Ireland interview on Tuesday, Hickey stated that the US fundraisers used money they had raised to cover their travelling costs.
Not so, say the Americans, who are considering legal proceedings against the president they are supposed to be helping. Where this ends is anyone’s guess.
That Hickey’s position as OCI president has been undermined by the events and disclosures of the last three months is beyond dispute. Whether he remains on as OCI president is less certain.
His future is in the hands of his own executive committee and in the 28 Olympic federations that he serves. Whatever happens, the Olympic Council of Ireland has been greatly damaged by the current controversies.
Hickey is a battler and in the business of sports politics he is a survivor. Balbirnie and O’Connell, however, have pledged to continue with their fight within the OCI’s executive committee until Hickey resigns.
But they believe that there might be moves to replace them on committee.
Removing the dissident members, though, will not get rid of the OCI’s problems.
On the night, December 6 last, that Balbirnie was forced to resign as Ireland’s Olympic chef de mission, and O’Connell resigned as assistant chief, Pat Hickey said that the controversy would be nothing more than a “seven day wonder.”
The ‘seven day wonder’ is now in its fourth month and shows no sign of ending. Balbernie and O’Connell believe the only solution is the resignation of Pat Hickey.
As of now, with the damage the continuing controversy is causing to the OCI and by extension to Irish Olympians, that seems to me to be the only solution.
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