Republic of Ireland news

Sports minister threatens probe into Olympics ticket sale scandal

President of the Olympic Council of Ireland Pat Hickey
Ed Carty, Press Association

THE Republic's sports minister has said he is stunned by the Olympic Council of Ireland's (OCI) refusal to answer questions about the alleged illegal sale of tickets for the Rio games..

Shane Ross flew into Brazil on Sunday for a showdown with OCI president Pat Hickey and accused him of burying his head in the sand over the scandal.

Irish man Kevin Mallon, a director of THG Sports, which specialises in corporate and sports hospitality, has been detained in Rio for more than a week over the affair.

He was arrested after police seized around 1,000 tickets for the Olympics in a hotel, some of which were part of the Irish allocation.

PRO10, the OCI's authorised ticket reseller, said it had legitimate customers for its tickets and Mr Mallon was acting as a collection agent for them in Rio, meeting clients.

Mr Ross said Mr Hickey claimed barristers advised the OCI not to discuss the case for fear it will prejudice any potential trial and not to allow an independent figure on its internal inquiry.

"I am absolutely stunned," Mr Ross said.

"I cannot believe that they'd refuse to take an independent on their inquiry."

Mr Ross said he came up against a "brick wall" and was considering launching a government inquiry into the scandal because of the OCI's stance.

"I've total clarity on it. I am absolutely stunned that they are basically saying to me and to the government that they are not going to allow us to put someone on this inquiry to take a totally independent view," Mr Ross said.

"That's total clarity... they have given us the total clarity that we didn't want."

Both THG, part of the group of companies owned by Ipswich Town FC owner Marcus Evans, and PRO10, a Dublin-based sports management company, have denied any wrongdoing over the sale of tickets for the Olympics.

Mr Ross told RTE that the OCI inquiry was flawed from the beginning.

"Mr Hickey absolutely refused point blank to share any information with us about this situation at all," Mr Ross said.

"We met a situation where a body, which is supported by the taxpayer, is now refusing to allow representatives of that taxpayer to be part of its inquiry.

"It's something which I take extremely seriously.

"It's a terrible spectacle. I think the OCI simply has its head in the sand over this issue.

"I think they feel somehow that they are above accountability to the Irish people and to the Irish government and that situation cannot be allowed to continue."

Mr Ross will meet the director general of the International Olympic Committee, Christophe De Kepper, today to discuss the case.

Mr Ross said Mr Hickey misunderstands the situation.

"Of course he's an autonomous body... but he's also taxpayer-funded and there's also an Irish reputational issue here," he said.

Mr Ross, who is in Rio for the week, said he would consider visiting Mr Mallon in prison if he was asked.

Mr Hickey invited Mr Ross to dinner on Thursday night but the minister said it is unlikely he will attend.

In a statement the OCI attacked the minister's description of it being "taxpayer-funded".

It said it gets about €200,000 of government money, which is earmarked for athlete development.

The OCI said it is a non-profit body and the vast majority of its revenue comes from parent organisation the International Olympic Committee and commercial deals.

It said Mr Ross was told during the meeting that it would be "inappropriate and unnecessary" to have an independent person added to the inquiry team.

The OCI said it will not make its findings public until the case in Brazil runs its course, and it insisted there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing or misconduct on the part of the OCI or any of its staff.

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