Hickey arrest casts dark shadow over Ireland's Rio Olympic campaign

Patrick Hickey, President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, who has stepped aside following Rio arrest. Picture by Julien Behal/PA Wire
Neil Loughran

AS if Irish sports fans haven’t suffered enough during the past fortnight, the image of Pat Hickey being confronted by Brazilian police after they tracked him down in a Rio hotel room brought another, extraordinary level of controversy to an at times farcical Olympic Games for the country.

Hickey’s arrest in connection with an alleged ticket touting scandal came less than two weeks after news first broke of boxer Michael O’Reilly’s failed drugs test, as well as some poor performances and bad decisions leading to O’Reilly’s former team-mates on the boxing team failing to secure a single medal.

Rio 2016 has delivered some memorable lows for Irish sport but the arrest of Hickey – the long-serving president of the Olympic Council of Ireland and the European Olympic Committee - is on a completely different scale.

Hickey wasn’t the only one caught bleary-eyed in Brazil in the early hours of yesterday morning, with journalists across the city waking up to the news of his arrest as word filtered through at around 6am local time.

Irish sports minister Shane Ross tweeted “shell shock in Rio” at 9.01am. Considering he sent a tweet wishing Katie Taylor well several hours after her Olympic exit, there was speculation that he may have just learned of the poor decision that befell Belfast boxer Michael Conlan the previous day.

A hastily arranged police press conference, conducted totally in Portuguese and without the aid of an interpreter, later in the morning provided some of details of their investigation.

They also revealed that Hickey’s wife had told them he was not in their room, as he had returned to Ireland days earlier. With the help of staff at the Windsor Hotel in Barra, the 71-year-old was located in another room rented by his son.

Hickey was taken to hospital after telling police he had a heart condition, and it is believed he was kept in overnight as a precaution.

Police confirmed the arrest was related to that of fellow Irishman Kevin James Mallon on the day of the Olympic opening ceremony, with the potential profits of the alleged scheme an estimated 10 million reals (£2.4m).

During the press conference, the 71-year-old’s passport and official Olympic accreditation was displayed – and thankfully those were the only credentials on show as footage emerged on ESPN Brazil of a naked Hickey peering around his hotel door, confronted by local police.

An International Olympic Committee (IOC) press briefing was scheduled for 11am at the main press centre in Barra, just a stone’s throw from the hotel where the drama had unfolded just hours earlier.

The IOC’s director of communications, Mark Adams, informed the assembled members of the media that one of the organisation’s members would be speaking about television and marketing, drawing an audible groan/round of sniggers, before acknowledging: “But I’m sure you have other things you want to talk about first…”

Typically, very little light was shed, with one question after another batted away with either no comment or “that’s probably a question for the Olympic Council of Ireland” as the investigation continues.

With Hickey expected to be released from hospital today, there is plenty more to run on a story that has once again cast a dark shadow over Ireland’s Olympic campaign.

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