Five-Ring Circus

Olympics Jerk Watch: The Alleged Ticket-Scalping, Butt-Showing European Sporteaucrat

Patrick Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committees, during press conference on Nov. 5, 2014, in Bangkok, Thailand.

Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images

Name: Patrick Hickey

Home country: Ireland

Known for: Promoting the virtues of sport worldwide, allegedly scalping tickets, showing his butt to police.

Why he might be a jerk: The 71-year-old Hickey is a member of the executive board of the International Olympic Committee and president of the European Olympic Committees, which makes him a very important person in the world sporting community. On Wednesday, Hickey was arrested in a Rio de Janeiro hotel room and charged with playing a part in a bizarre and lucrative ticket-scalping scheme in which Rio Games tickets allotted to the Olympic Council of Ireland were resold at high prices. Hickey allegedly used his status with Ireland’s Olympic committee to help “transfer tickets to an unauthorized vendor who would set high fees and disguise the transaction as a hospitality package.” According to the Associated Press, the scheme involved “at least nine others” and may have brought in as much as $3 million in profits.

Far be it from me to look down on some good old-fashioned ticket scalping. We’ve all done it. We’ve all profited from doing it. The problem with Hickey’s situation, as the Independent of Ireland points out, is that reselling Olympic tickets above face value is a crime in Brazil. Moreover, while I hate to be a square, it does feel like there’s a difference between reselling two tickets you bought yourself and allegedly reselling hundreds of tickets that you received via your role as a guardian of the so-called Olympic spirit. (Yes, I do hate myself for saying that.)

The tickets scandal first broke early in the Rio Games, when an Irishman named Kevin Mallon was arrested and charged with scalping tickets to the opening ceremony at exorbitant prices. The tickets had been sold as part of a so-called hospitality package that, according to the Independent, failed to live up to its name:

According to police, clients were told there would be a hospitality reception at the luxury Belmond Copacabana Palace hotel with champagne, cocktails and canapes. But on arrival, they were sent to the far less plush Next hotel, where they were served nibbles and fizzy drinks. …

“This whole cocktail reception was just a farce. They were making it look like a hospitality event but that was all just a facade,” Barboza claimed. He said one group spent $60,000 on tickets.

Further investigation revealed that Mallon was in possession of many tickets that had been allotted to the Olympic Council of Ireland. According to the Irish Times, when Irish sporting minister Shane Ross suggested appointing an independent entity to oversee the investigation into the ticket scandal, Hickey “publicly resisted this, insisting that an internal inquiry was sufficient.” At the time, it might have simply seemed like Hickey was being possessive. Now, it’s clear he was trying to cover his ass.

But it turns out that he is very bad at doing that. According to RTE News, when police came to Hickey’s hotel to apprehend him, his wife told them he had already returned to Ireland. This was a lie: Hickey was still in the hotel, in his son’s room—and, according to the Daily Mail, he was naked and “showing his buttocks” when the police eventually found him. Now, he is in a Brazilian jail, sharing a cell with Kevin Mallon, denying the charges against him.

Hickey is a former international judo competitor who parlayed his reputation in that relatively obscure sport into a long tenure as a high-ranking sporting administrator in Ireland, Europe, and the world. Did I mention that his tenure has been long? Hickey has served with the IOC since 1995 (he’s been an executive board member since 2012), has been president of the European Olympic Committees since 2006, and has run the Olympic Council of Ireland since 1989. (He has temporarily stepped down from all of his positions in the wake of his arrest.)

Perhaps understandably, Hickey has a fondness for other long-serving European presidents. According to the website Balls.ie, Hickey is chummy with Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. In 2015, he “praised the development of the sports infrastructure in Belarus,” telling the long-serving dictator, “You have wonderful sports facilities and objects. This is because you go in for sport.” He hung out with Vladimir Putin at both the Sochi and London Games; in the runup to Rio, Hickey loudly defended Russia when other IOC members were considering banning the nation from the Rio Games in the wake of a state-sponsored doping scandal.

Also, he flew first class to Rio, while the actual Irish Olympians traveled in coach.

Why he might not be a jerk: First of all, it must be said that these are still just charges, and that nothing has been proved yet. If the charges do hold up, who can blame a fellow for wanting to make a little money on the side? And if “a little money” eventually turns into “a lot of money,” then, well, isn’t that the true meaning of Olympism? It’s not like he vandalized a gas station or anything.

Let’s look at the man’s accomplishments to see if we can find any mitigating factors here. Hickey holds a black belt in judo. That takes some work! There are relatively few lazy and shiftless black belts out there. In 2006, Hickey wrote in praise of the “principles of Politeness, Courage, Sincerity, Self-Control, Honour, Modesty, Friendship and respect although difficult to apply all the time” that he had learned and internalized during his years as a judoka. Wouldn’t it be great if more people capitalized the word politeness to emphasize its importance?

Um, what else? He was knighted by the French government for his services to the Olympic movement, and was the prime mover in bringing to life the European Olympic Games. In 2015, the Irish Examiner proclaimed him “highly charming, affable. He uses your name liberally throughout the whole conversation.” Do jerks make a point of using their conversation partner’s name? Well, yes, they do; that’s a classic jerk move. Anyway: “He shows you around the highly impressive offices of the OCI and its many framed photographs and has an engaging anecdote for each one. For all his pressing schedule and all we’ve to cover in our interview, he makes time to ask about your own background and interests.” Well, that’s nice!

Finally, I would submit there is no real shame in hiding to avoid arrest. If anything, Hickey didn’t try hard enough to escape the Brazilian police. It’s not enough to just hide and be naked—why not grease yourself up, too? If they can’t hold on to you, they can’t cuff you.

Jerk Score: I’ll give him 3 out of 3 for style, because his office contains many framed photographs. 3 out of 3 for technical merit, because it really does take a lot of skill to find something good to say about Alexander Lukashenko. 1.5 out of 3 for consistency, because as far as I know Hickey is a first-time alleged scalper. And 1 out of 1 in the category of “Did he get his wife to lie to the cops for him?” 8.5 out of 10 for Patrick Hickey.

Previously in Olympics Jerk Watch:

See more of Slate’s Olympics coverage.