Romário warns of Hickey ‘influence peddling’ in Rio

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Football legend Romário, the great striker turned politician, sickened by Olympic ticket scandals, has launched a blistering campaign to force the International Olympic Committee to share control of the sale of tickets for the 2016 Rio Games.

The socialist Congressman last week fired off formal requests for Olympic officials to testify to a Brazilian congressional committee. Romário’s first target is veteran IOC member Patrick Hickey, a member of the IOC’s Rio Co-ordinating commission who will be intimately involved in supervising ticketing plans.

Hickey, president of the Olympic Committee of Ireland, is in the unenviable position of having to explain how his son Stephen came to be on the payroll of the company that acquired a significant slice of Ireland’s allocation of tickets for the London Olympics. There are also questions still to be answered about Hickey’s knowledge of the bribes paid to win the 2002 Olympics for Salt Lake City.

Hickey may yet be forced to make a choice between representing the IOC in Rio or selling Irish Olympic Committee tickets to agents making packages for wealthy fans. His membership of the IOC’s Executive Board could also be in question.

Romário says he wants Hickey ‘to clarify the details and criteria for concession and distribution of tickets being sold for the Olympic Games Rio 2016.’ He goes much further in a ferocious five-page letter to Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, arguing that Hickey’s activities on the co-ordinating committee ‘must be scrutinised by the Sports Ministry to avoid possible influence peddling between Patrick Hickey and Brazilian sports officials.’ (Google translation)

Romário is concerned about Hickey’s deals with the Marcus Evans Group who not only acquired the Irish tickets but also hired his son to run an Irish-themed Olympic pub in London that was allowed to use the Five Rings to promote the business.

The IOC is investigating the Marcus Evans ticket deals with national Olympic committees and following newspaper investigations has suspended all ticket deals for the winter games in Sochi in 2014. Hickey had already contracted to sell Ireland’s Sochi allocation to the Evans Group. As a member of the IOC’s Executive Board Hickey would be in a position to influence the ethics investigation report.

Romário wants the IOC to share the evidence they unearth with Brazil’s sports authorities. And he wants more: As Brazil is financing the Games Romario is insisting that the government is involved in monitoring the sale of Olympic tickets domestically and internationally.

Also in Romário’s cross-hairs is Carlos Nuzman, president of both Brazil’s Olympic Committee and the Rio 2016 Organising Committee. There are concerns that holding these two positions gives Nuzman massive conflicts of interest.

Nuzman has been requested to attend the Congress committee ‘to clarify the details and criteria for concessions and distribution of tickets for Rio 2016.’ Romário also says he wants to know more about prices, quantity and availability. Inevitably there are going to be demands for greater accountability of spending public funds.

The IOC may face unexpected challenges in Rio. In London the iconic presence of double-gold medal winner Lord Seb Coe presiding over the Games deterred investigations by press and politicians until the eve of the event.

In Brazil Carlos Nuzman is vulnerable, seen as an unpopular administrator who has been in power too long. His objections to accountability and transparency don’t play well in a country plagued by corruption. The IOC may yet regret that he is the face of their next summer games.

The IOC would be unwise to back Nuzman against the Congress; it controls the supply of money and resources. Despite their collegiality the IOC may have to abandon Nuzman rather than wrestle with an adversary as determined – and as popular – as Romario.

Nuzman’s allies in the congress committee – including its chairman José Rocha – are expected to oppose the invitations to testify. A decision is expected in the next week but many Congressmen may think twice about lining up with what is increasingly seen as a discredited sports official.

Expect fireworks if another of Romario’s selections testifies. Renata Santiago was alleged to have been involved in the theft of confidential data from the London organizing committee during this year’s games. Carlos Nuzman fired her and nine colleagues last month but she claims they were instructed to acquire the information by ‘senior Brazilian Olympic officials.’ Will she name them to Congressmen? What did Nuzman know?

A more reluctant witness may be Rodrigo Hermida who was involved in stealing data during the Pan American Games in Rio in 2007, again headed by Carlos Nuzman. Hermida was fired but the scandal was suppressed. He is now working for the committee organising the 2014 FIFA World Cup. If he testifies, he faces pointed questions about Nuzman’s management style.

Hickey became a national joke in Ireland last week when he offered golfing superstar Rory McIlroy the chance to carry the flag in Rio if he joined the Irish team, rather than the British. McIlroy, an Ulsterman, has always made clear that he feels British; medal-winning Belfast boxer Paddy Barnes immediately tweeted that Hickey is ‘a prick!’

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