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Alarm over Irish Olympic scandals

The Rio Olympics, which conclude with a closing ceremony late tomorrow, have been generally disappointing for the Irish team but little short of disastrous for the country's sporting administrators.

Boxer Michael O'Reilly's disqualification for failing a drug test before the games even got under way set the tone for a series of disturbing developments which have sadly caused considerable damage to Ireland's wider international standing.

Some individual competitors performed heroically, others were either unlucky or were the victims of harsh decisions and a number simply did not live up to expectations on their big days.

The Olympics always produce similar tales of triumph and frustration, leaving coaches in the various disciplines with another four years to ponder on their strategy for Tokyo 2020.

What has been astonishing about the Rio event is the way in which a scandal over illegal ticket touting, potentially worth an estimated €2.5m, caused unprecedented turmoil within the Irish camp.

The affair began at a relatively low level with the arrest in Brazil on August 5 of a little known Irishm businessman, Kevin Mallon, in connection with claims of a plot to sell seats at up to 20 times their face value.

Questions began to mount up when it emerged that Mallon was linked to an hospitality group which had previously appointed as an agent by the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), a body which receives significant public funding.

Brazilian warrants were issued against four other individuals over subsequent days, although denials of wrongdoing followed across the board.

However, even the arrival of an alarmed Irish sports minister Shane Ross in Rio failed to initially convince OCI president Pat Hickey that he needed to provide additional information or cooperate with any independent investigation.

The circumstances changed dramatically when Mr Hickey himself was detained by police in Rio on Wednesday over the same alleged ticket conspiracy and, after a period of hospital treatment, remanded into custody in a maximum security prison.

Mr Hickey is fully entitled to the presumption of innocence until the case is resolved but it is essential that urgent steps are taken on other fronts.

The OCI said yesterday that it was now fully committed to supporting a State inquiry into its ticketing arrangements, and it must be expected that progress will follow swiftly in this regard.

Ireland's reputation has taken a severe knock on the international sporting stage and the full background needs to be established, and any necessary changes at official level finalised, without further delay.

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