The most annoying thing about the Irish Olympic Rio fiasco is not the shame that the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) Pat Hickey has brought on us. It is that we needed the Brazil police to expose what was going on and do something about it.
It's not like we had no warning in Ireland that something was amiss. There had been rumors floating about at the London Olympics in 2012 that something peculiar was going on with the sale of tickets allotted to the OCI.
There seemed to be no shortage of Irish tickets available to people with enough money to pay for expensive hospitality packages. But tickets for ordinary Irish sports fans at face value prices seemed to be impossible to get, unless you were very lucky.
The Brazilian soccer legend turned national politician, Romario, was so suspicious about what was happening in London at the time that he spoke about it in the Brazilian Parliament, naming Hickey. Since the Olympics was coming to Brazil next Romario had good reason to be concerned and he repeated his concerns to the Brazilian police who began to take an interest.
Somehow, however, there seemed to be no concern about this in Ireland, either then or in the intervening years, right up to last week. No political voices were raised here asking questions. The gardai showed no interest.
Instead, Hickey continued to be part of the Irish elite, rubbing shoulders with the president, the taoiseach and other senior figures in politics, business and sports.
The mutual back-scratching continued, with the OCI giving free tickets, trips and hotel stays to politicians and the same politicians giving state funding to the OCI with no proper oversight of how it was being spent. Hickey had been head of the OCI for nearly three decades, which breaks all the rules for good governance, and seemed to be untouchable.
The warning signs were there for anyone who wanted to see. A major British ticketing company called THG which had been the authorized ticket reseller (ATR) for the OCI at the London Olympics in 2012 and the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 was again in line to be nominated by the OCI to be in charge of the sale of Irish tickets for Rio.
But the Rio organizers refused to accept THG (they had already questioned the company's then chief executive in Brazil about ticket touting at the 2014 World Cup). Yet this did not raise any red flags in Ireland.
Nor was there any concern here when the OCI then appointed Pro10 as its ATR, even though this small Co. Kildare-based company was new and had no experience in dealing with Olympic tickets. As it turned out, it did not even have the resources to put its own representative on the ground in Rio during the Games.
The Brazilian police believe that Pro10 was used by Hickey simply as a channel to move OCI tickets through to THG. Yet no one here seems to have suspected that such a scenario might have been underway, even though there were clear links between Hickey and THG (for whom Hickey's son had worked during the London Olympics).
As you will know from news reports, an Irishman called Kevin Mallon, who is a director of THG, was arrested in Rio two weeks ago with more than 800 Olympic tickets in his possession -- most of them OCI tickets for the best events at the Games -- and is now in jail there as investigations continue.
THG was not the Irish ATR for the Rio Games, so what he appeared to be doing was illegal. This is what led the Irish Minister for Sport Shane Ross to go immediately to Rio for a meeting with Hickey and demand answers.
How did a THG executive get so many OCI tickets? Instead of answers Ross was given the runaround by Hickey, despite the fact that nearly half the OCI's funding is taxpayers' money.
But this humiliation of the minister was then overtaken by events when Hickey was arrested in his hotel early the next morning. The latest news is that he is now sharing a cell with Mallon.
Of course Hickey, Mallon, and the two companies, THG and Pro10, are denying any illegal activity, and Hickey deserves the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven. But the circumstantial evidence points in only one direction, and the whole business stinks to high heaven.
Does anyone believe that THG was simply doing Pro10 a favor, as they have claimed, by distributing its tickets in Rio, and that Mallon was not being paid for doing so? Is it really credible that this was simply a delivery service to people who had already paid Pro10 for tickets?
The Brazilian police have witnesses who claim otherwise and say that THG was selling shoddy hospitality packages that inflated the tickets prices up to 18 times the face value.
One of the refreshing things about the Rio scandal is the way the Brazilian police are handling the matter in a completely open manner, with picture and video opportunities given freely to the media as well as statements that hide nothing about what they have found or what they suspect has yet to be uncovered.
The pictures of bundles of OCI tickets and the video of the hotel bedroom arrest of a semi-naked Hickey would never have been released here. It's the kind of media coverage that people in the U.S. are used to, but not in Ireland, especially when a member of the elite is involved.
Similarly, the police account of how Hickey's wife initially lied, saying he had already left for Ireland (until they found his passport in the room!) would never have been divulged in Ireland. Such embarrassing moments are deemed far too sensitive, especially when it's one of the top layer of Irish society who has been caught in his bathrobe. As you know they discovered him in an adjoining suite, registered to his son.
Hickey certainly has not helped his case by his behavior, trying to evade police in the hotel, then claiming to be ill with a heart condition when he was arrested, pleading to be given more time in the hospital where he was sent to be checked, and later being very evasive during questioning in the police station. You would think that he would have been as helpful as possible if, as he claims, he has done nothing wrong.
Equally, the picture of him trying to hide from the media on the floor of a police car with his bum in the air is not what you expect from someone who is innocent. It's almost as bad as the picture taken at Sochi of him bumping fists with Putin, that well-known supporter of a clean Olympics.
The open attitude of the Brazilian police also produced some interesting incidentals when they displayed the material they had confiscated when they arrested Hickey. There was, for example, his first class return airline ticket, paid for by the OCI, which cost over €8,000 (and we still don't know who else in his party had free first class tickets).
The tickets to Rio provided by the OCI for the athletes were for the back of the planes, of course. This fits with Hickey staying in a luxury hotel on the beach while the athletes were in the spartan surroundings of the Olympic apartments. And you can be sure none of them were getting his €800 a day expenses either.
More important than these telling bits and pieces, of course, are the three laptops and two cell phones taken by police from Hickey. The police have already said that they reveal many emails between Hickey and the boss of THG. They are still examining these to see what they reveal about the bundles of OCI tickets they found, the financial structure involved and who might have benefitted.
To think that athletes' families went without Rio tickets and this was going on - pic.twitter.com/ekLpBDIn0u— Declan Varley (@declanvarley) August 23, 2016
The Brazilian police have said that they intend to follow the money trail to find out what was really going on. To do so, they say, they will need the co-operation of the authorities in Ireland and the U.K. And that's where it is going to get very interesting.
Ticket touting, punishable in Brazil by up to seven years in jail, is not a crime in Ireland. We don't have an extradition treaty with Brazil.
What we do have is a very strict right to privacy, rules about commercial confidentiality, and cumbersome legal processes that can delay investigations for months or even years and ensure that suspects are free on bail in the meantime.
The Irish Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald issued a typically feeble response last weekend when she said that "gardai will help the Brazilian authorities once the request is made through the appropriate channel."
Which seems to mean that instead of launching a proactive garda investigation here immediately into what is an international embarrassment for Ireland, we will sit on our hands until we are asked to do something.
Meanwhile in Brazil, the police are upping the pressure, having raided the OCI offices in the Olympic village and found dozens of tickets -- even though some relatives of Irish athletes in Rio have complained that they could not get tickets. The non-statutory inquiry now announced by Minister Ross will not have the power to compel witnesses to attend or to produce documents, and could take months to get anywhere.
You can be sure lawyers here will mount legal challenges if the inquiry gets ambitious, and the agreement of the OCI, Pro10 and THG to cooperate has to be seen in that light. You can be sure that when it suits them they will claim that documents cannot be produced or information divulged because of "commercial sensitivity" or "confidentiality." How much the inquiry, to be headed by a retired judge, can discover as long as Hickey and Mallon are in custody in Brazil is doubtful, anyway.
It all adds up to a sorry, embarrassing mess. We have been shamed before the world's media.
But even more shameful is that having already left it to the Brazilian police to expose this, the authorities here are unlikely to do much about it.