herald

Sunday 25 September 2016

Tensions rise as Ross flies out for 'ticket-touting' showdown

Sports Minister Shane Ross. Picture Credit: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography
Sports Minister Shane Ross. Picture Credit: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography
OCI boss Pat Hickey. Picture Credit: INPHO/James Crombie

Sports Minister Shane Ross will travel to Rio tomorrow for showdown talks with Olympics chief Pat Hickey.

Mr Ross yesterday cast doubt over the Olympic Council of Ireland's (OCI) ability to conduct an independent investigation into the ticket-touting scandal that has resulted in the arrest of Dublin man Kevin Mallon.

But the Herald can today reveal that the tensions between the Government and the OCI date back to weeks before the Games began.

Sources said Mr Hickey was unsupportive of a move by the Government to sign up to an anti-doping pledge involving 18 other European countries.

A spokesman for Mr Hickey last night confirmed he was opposed to the proposal, which was tabled by the Danish government.

"The OCI was made aware of the letter in question after it had been published, and Pat Hickey expressed his opinion that it was not an official communication from the EU as it was not signed by all 28 members," the spokesman said.

"This was the only engagement the OCI had with other stakeholders in Irish sport."

The spokesman added that the OCI "does not have the mandate to seek to influence other stakeholders in Irish sport on such matters of government."

Despite being told of the OCI president's opposition to the move, Minister of State Patrick O'Donovan signed up to the agreement.

Well-placed sources have confirmed Mr O'Donovan was warned by officials that such a move would "not go down well" with the OCI and in particular Mr Hickey, who did not meet the junior minister when he arrived in Rio.

Last night, the minister said: "If someone has a problem with our position on doping, then tough, it will not be watered down."

Mr O'Donovan said he has a responsibility to be accountable to both the taxpayer and the Oireachtas, adding: "There can be no hiding."

Asked whether he was told of Mr Hickey's opposition, Mr O'Donovan said he did not wish to discuss "who said what to whom".

Meanwhile, Mr Ross yesterday declined to say whether Mr Hickey is "suitable or not suitable" for the role in light of the ticketing scandal.

But he again stopped short of initiating an independent investigation.

He is due to meet Mr Hickey in Rio tomorrow.

It's also emerged the Irish ambassador to Brazil, Brian Glynn, was denied accreditation to the Games because he was not in the company of the Taoiseach or President.

Controversy

An OCI spokesman said this is in accordance with rules laid down by the International Olympics Committee.

Separately yesterday, PRO 10 Sport - the company at the centre of the controversy - said it has fully complied with the authorities.

A spokesman said the tickets held by Mr Mallon were to be "made available simply for collection by Irish and other European customers" in Rio.

"These had been made available for sale through the authorised ATR process and were sold to legitimate customers of PRO 10 at face value plus the allowed ATR reseller fee," the spokesman said.

"We should also note that it is normal practise for ATRs to have available many tickets in Rio for collection and sale through the authorised processes at Games time.

"Many ATRs would have several thousand rather than hundreds of tickets in their possession at an ATR house.

"Meanwhile, we have suffered significant commercial loss as a result of the tickets being seized.

"This has caused Irish and European customers to be unable to buy tickets during games time through the authorised process," the spokesman added.

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