Brazil’s Congress has moved swiftly to investigate allegations of Olympic ticket racketeering. The Tourism and Sport committee unanimously approved last week requests from Congressman Romario to invite IOC Executive Board member Patrick Hickey and Brazilian IOC member Carlos Nuzman to testify in Brasila. The cliff-hanger now is: Will they turn up?
Nuzman presides over the organising committee for Rio 2016 and the Brazilian Olympic Committee. He will be at the heart of decisions on how Games tickets are sold, often for undisclosed amounts, to secretive companies that package them with rooms and flights. The IOC says it tries to control mark-ups on ticket prices but profiteering is rife.
On Wednesday afternoon José Rocha, chairman of the Congress committee, opened a discussion on Romario’s requests. (View live proceedings here). He begins with Patrick Hickey [named at 0.20 seconds]. Then he asks Romario for his reasons. Romário explains he wants to clarify the ticket selling process for the Olympics. At the end Congressman Rocha announces it is approved. Hickey is invited.
Next, chairman Rocha deals with Romario’s request for Renata Santiago to be heard. Romario explains that he wants her to reveal who at the Brazilian Olympic Committee instructed her to steal documents from the London 2012 Olympic organisers during the Games. Agreed. She is invited.
Ms Santiago is a time bomb, ticking. She was fired by Carlos Nuzman, is angry and says she has done nothing wrong. Both Nuzman and the London Organising Committee’s Paul Deighton quickly played down the scandal, involving at least 10 Brazilian Olympic officials. Her revelations could spur a complaint to the IOC’s ethics committee about Nuzman’s alleged role in the sordid affair.
The committee may decide to hear Ms Santiago first, together with 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.
The Congress would be wise to delay calling Hickey and Nuzman to testify until after the IOC Ethics Commission reports on the ticketing scandals at the London Olympics – now expected in December. President Jacques Rogge had forecast it would be ready for September, then October.
The rackets, exposed by the London Sunday Times in June, are more damaging than the Salt Lake cash ‘n’ sex for votes scandal that broke in late 1998. That was about a culture of corruption among IOC members – but the Games were little affected.
The new disclosures reveal that sports fans are betrayed by Olympic officials in 54 countries who sell tickets into the black market or in questionable deals to ‘IOC-authorised’ brokers at up to 10 times face value. Ripping-off fans has become an industry.
The headline was “Exposed: Mass black market in2012 tickets.” Reporters pretended they were agents wanting to buy tickets for an Arab client. Their biggest coup was secretly filming Spyros Capralos, head of the Greek Olympic Committee who lit the flame for the London torch relay, boasting about his lucrative deal selling some of the Greek allocation of tickets to the Marcus Evans company for packaging to rich clients.
Officials in Serbia, Israel, Malta, China, Lithuania and throughout the Americas were exposed allegedly breaking IOC ticketing rules. But what horrified many readers was discovering that diverting tickets to the rich, out of the reach of most fans, was approved by the IOC.
The London Organisers got their ticket distribution wrong and viewers worldwide saw empty seats at many events. They were filled, hurriedly, with off-duty soldiers and volunteers. President Rogge announced in August that empty seats ‘is one of the issues that we are going to review in Rio.’
Patrick Hickey has already pledged some of Ireland’s tickets for the 2014 winter Games in Sochi to the Marcus Evans company. That deal has been suspended by the IOC who have halted all Sochi arrangements until their investigation is completed.
The IOC may not yet have realised the likely long-term impact of Romario’s intervention on behalf of his underprivileged voters in Rio. This is sensational, unique and the Lords of Lausanne are in for a bitter four years if they fail to take notice of the irrepressible former football star.
If the IOC fails to investigate Hickey’s ticket and Olympic commercial activities, the Brazilian Congress will want to do the job for them. If Hickey accepts the Congress committee invitation he can expect to be asked how much the Marcus Evans Group paid for the tickets he sold them for the London Games. There will also be questions about the possible conflict of his son working for the company – and does he intend to use his membership of the IOC’s Rio 2016 Co-ordinating committee to seek out Olympic related business? Romario in a letter to the Sports Ministry has warned of Hickey’s potential ‘influence peddling.’
If Hickey ignores the invitation to testify in Brasilia he will only be postponing the questioning until next year when he travels to Rio with the IOC inspection group and finds local reporters waiting.
I am making my own personal contribution to the IOC tickets investigation! In April this year I published a package of 5,000 tickets I had obtained that were being offered around the black market. I waited . . . and waited . . . and Seb Coe didn’t call. So I am sending the list to the IOC ethics commission.
The Congress invitation to Hickey and Nuzman has been reported in the Wall Street Journal (scroll down) and in as many as 50 news sites across the Brazilian media. (Search “Romario” and “Patrick Hickey”)