Olympics

GRABBING FOR GOLD

As the Olympic scandal widened, Montreal’s Richard Pound led the drive to save the Game’s battered reputation

JANE O’HARA February 1 1999
Olympics

GRABBING FOR GOLD

As the Olympic scandal widened, Montreal’s Richard Pound led the drive to save the Game’s battered reputation

JANE O’HARA February 1 1999

GRABBING FOR GOLD

Olympics

As the Olympic scandal widened, Montreal’s Richard Pound led the drive to save the Game’s battered reputation

JANE O’HARA

For Michel Lizotte, the former vice-president and director general of Quebec City’s bid for the 2002 Olympics, the real Olympics took place in fancy restaurants and fivestar hotels, not skating rinks and luge runs. In 1993, just after Quebec City began its quest for the Games, lizotte met a Parisian lobbyist with close connections to the IOC. But it wasn’t until a year later that the lobbyist and a friend came to Quebec City to pitch a questionable scheme for securing votes. In a secret meeting with Quebec bid officials, the men asked for $500,000 (U.S.); in return, they said they would meet with IOC members in Paris and visit them in their respective countries. The men, whom Lizotte estimates were in their 60s and 70s, showed the Quebecers a list of 20 IOC members from China, Europe and Africa whom they felt could be persuaded to vote for Quebec. Time, they said, was running out. “They said: We’ll bring you votes,’ ” says Lizotte. “They didn’t say they would pay off someone. But obviously the $500,000 was probably not just for expenses.”

Lizotte says he asked them what assurances they had that the IOC members would vote for Quebec City. The men replied that they had done this for several previous bids. When Lizotte then asked them

what they knew about the Quebec City bid, he says, “They looked at each other and smiled as if it wasn’t really important whether or not they knew about the bid.” Ultimately, the Quebec committee turned the lobbyists away, but even then they were gracious in their refusal.

After all, their main competition for the Winter Games was Salt Lake City, which seemed to be playing by a different set of rules. “You have to be prudent so that those people don’t work against you the next day,” says Lizotte, now an executive headhunter in Montreal.

Last week, as new and more damning allegations of improprieties piled up, the IOC battled to save its reputation and preserve the cor-

porate sizzle of its five-ring logo. Officials said they would conduct further investigations, possibly into the awarding of next year’s Summer Games to Sydney, in addition to their previously announced probe of the Salt Lake City bid, headed by Richard Pound, the Montreal lawyer and IOC executive vice-president. Three other investigations into the Salt Lake City bid are also ongoing, including one by the U.S. justice department, which had begun to subpoena witnesses for a grand jury. The spate of allegations led to two quick resignations from the IOC. Finland’s Pirjo Haeggman, one of just 12 women among the 115 IOC members, resigned after it emerged that her former husband had secured jobs with help from bid committees in Salt Lake City and Toronto (in the latter case, he had gotten a provincial forestry post in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., which also included $965 a month in rent on a small home paid by the Toronto committee). Next came Bashir Mohamed Attarabulsi, a Libyan delegate, who quit over revelations that the Salt Lake committee had arranged a scholarship for his son at Utah’s Brigham Young University.

Meanwhile, there were new allegations that IOC members visiting Amsterdam, which bid for the 1992 Summer Games, were offered prostitutes, diamond broaches and videocassette recorders in an attempt to sway votes. According to a Dutch newspaper, one of the IOC members escorted regularly to Amsterdam’s legal brothels was Brazil’s Joao Havelange, now 82, an IOC member since 1963. In Nagano, which hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics, officials admitted they hired geishas for the enjoyment of some IOC members. To hide the evidence, the Nagano bid committee also acknowledged they burned the financial records that detailed the vast sums of money spent on IOC delegates. Some of that money went towards presents for IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch. According to the Japanese, Samaranch was given a $20,000 samurai sword and an expensive painting depicting a geisha. Samaranch’s Nagano hosts also put the president up in a hotel befitting his imperial style. While athletes often huddled four to a room in spartan housing, Samaranch basked in a suite that cost $3,800 a night; the hotel bill for his 30-day stay in Nagano came to more than $113,000.

Closer to home, the Calgary bid committee that secured the 1988 Winter Games had firsthand experience with requests for special treatment. Bill Warren, who in the early 1980s was on Calgary’s committee and is the current president of the Canadian Olympic Association, told Maclean’s: ‘There was one IOC member who inquired as to whether or not we would be prepared to lower the eligibility requirements for a relative to attend the University of Calgary. The answer was: ‘No, we can’t do that sort of thing.’ ” Warren says he cannot recall the IOC member’s identity because the request was made to a fellow bid-committee colleague. Asked to name the « colleague, Warren refused: “I’d rather not say, Hbecause I don’t want to implicate him.”

Toronto’s bid to win the 1996 Olympics— once considered squeaky clean—came under increased scrutiny. In addition to Haeggman’s husband, committee chairman Paul Henderson also found jobs for two other people with connections to IOC members. Henderson insisted he was merely doing favours for friends, not attempting to buy votes. “I spent four years trying to get the Olympics to the city,” he said, “and because I did that, people are now shitting on me.” Clearly, Toronto’s infractions were minor league compared with the flagrant payoffs in Salt Lake City and Nagano. But Carol Anne Letheren, an IOC member and chief executive officer of the Canadian Olympic Association, said the international body needed firm ground rules to keep officials and bidders honest. ‘The line has to be drawn between friendships

and business when it comes to Olympic bids,” Letheren said.

As the IOC scandal gained an almost unstoppable momentum, Pound apologized to fans and competitors. “These actions are an affront to the Olympic athletes who have inspired us through the years and whose lives so poignantly embody the Olympic ideal,” he told a sports marketing meeting in New York City, part of a high-profile campaign orchestrated by the public relations firm Hill and Knowlton. Late last weekend, Pound also released a report that promised to root out the Olympic profiteers and made recommendations to clean up the bidding process. The report was expected to implicate at least 13 IOC members for schemes involving $780,000 (U.S.) in kickbacks and gifts from Salt Lake City—everything from free surgery to university scholarships. Some walked away with money and gifts of more than $100,000 (U.S.). Whether these members would resign willingly or be forcibly expelled remained to be seen. As Pound told Maclean’s last week: “That’s hard to say. The denial mechanism seems to be as strong among members of our organization as it is among athletes who’ve tested positive for banned drugs.” Pound, who has negotiated more than $8 billion worth of worldwide TV deals for the IOC since the mid-1980s, insists “there may have been questionable and objectionable behaviour, but nothing criminal.” That swift legal determination was aimed at fending off the U.S. justice department and sparing IOC members from being called before a federal grand jury. But the protective attitude annoyed some onlookers who believe the IOC is incapable of investigating itself. “What I find appalling,” says Lizotte, “is that the investigation is being conducted internally.” A former Olympic swimmer who joined the IOC in 1978, Pound quickly rose to the position of executive vice-president. He was chosen by Samaranch to start the Olympic cleanup after Swiss IOC member Marc Hodler spilled the beans on Salt Lake City in mid-December—and says he was disheartened when he began to accumulate hard evidence against corrupt colleagues. ‘We had heard the rumours about IOC members on the take, but no one ever came forward with the goods,” Pound said. “So, yes, what we have seen has been discouraging.” But Pound, widely touted as one of the leading candidates to replace Samaranch when he retires in 2001, had heard more than just rumours. During a speech in Kitchener, Ont., he admitted in an offhand remark that he had been offered a $ 1-million bribe 15 years ago when negotiating a television deal for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Pound said he refused the offer, informed Samaranch but took no further action against the nameless briber, save for admonishing him by saying: “Don’t talk to

me like that. Don’t do this. What I’m doing I’m doing because I think it’s the right thing for the Olympics.”

The Montrealer promised that the new rules regarding bid cities will end the graft and underhanded deals that have crept into the system since the Olympics became a corporate bonanza in the 1980s. The changes, if implemented, will take power away from the full IOC membership and

In Quebec City, two lobbyists asked

for cash to secure foreign votes

centralize it in the hands of the 11-member executive board. Among the reforms:

• The executive will control all travel arrangements for IOC members visiting bid cities.

• The number of candidate cities will be reduced to two and a speedy vote held to pick the winning city.

• An Olympics ombudsman will be set up to monitor complaints from competing cities. “I think there are a lot of things we can

do,” said Pound. “It’s an ongoing process.” With the expulsions of IOC members and the promise of a new broom sweeping the old system clean, the IOC hopes the scandal will go away quickly. After all, the site of the 2006 Winter Games will be announced in June. And next year comes the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, planned as a sunny millennial showcase for Olympic ideals. But Sydney’s reputation was blackened as well

when an Australian official revealed last week that he had offered $70,000 (U.S.) in inducements to two African IOC members the night before the city was awarded the 2000 Summer Games. Australia’s senior IOC member, John Coates, who said he was not involved in the offer, acknowledged that the inducement could be seen as a bribe and could prompt demands for Sydney to be stripped of the Games—won by only two votes over Beijing.

Some jilted cities are now squawking. The Quebec City bid committee is pondering a lawsuit to recoup some of the $12 million of private and government money spent in trying to win the Games in a fair competition. Ironically, when Quebec City launched its bid, the committee was led to believe that the IOC had already tightened the rules to stop inappropriate behaviour: a $150 cap had been put on the price of presents, and IOC members were allowed to visit bid cities for only three days. ‘To us,” said Jean Grenier, the executive vice-president of the Quebec city bid, “the rules seemed not only strict but easy to control. We believed it was

impossible for the IOC to get around them.”

Lizotte recalls a dinner conversation in early 1995 with an African IOC member, who expressed interest in one of his children studying at Laval University. The man added that it would be difficult for him to pay because he was no longer a government minister in his country, a remark Lizotte interpreted as a request for a bursary. On another occasion, a visiting African delegate told Quebec City officials of his affection for Canada because the Canadian International Development Agency had paid for a gym in his country. He then mentioned that equipment needed to be replaced. “We knew that by not responding to these little openings we could lose votes,” said Jean Grenier, the executive vice-president of the bid.

In all, 60 of the then-86 IOC members visited Quebec City at a cost of $20,000 for each trip. During the average three-day stay, the IOC members bedded down at the elegant Chateau Frontenac and were helicoptered to sport sites, feted with dinners hosted by local and government officials and taken to NHL hockey games. But that was nothing compared with the perks and payoffs— bribes, scholarships, medical care and land deals—some IOC members got from Salt Lake City.

The Quebecers knew they were outgunned one day when they drove a group of departing IOC members to the airport. Scheduled to fly out first-class on Air Canada from Quebec to Salt Lake City, the IOC members were instead whisked aboard a private jet—hired by the Utah committee. “The IOC may not have formally approved the things that were happening,” said René Paquet, the head of the Quebec committee. “But we practically had the impression that it was closing its eyes because it didn’t want to see what was going on.”

The question is whether there can be a wholesale housecleaning of the IOC with Samaranch still in office. Since 1980, when he was first elected president, the now-78year-old Spaniard has run the IOC like a feudal fiefdom, filling positions on the all-powerful executive board with close friends and business associates. Olympic watchers like Andrew Jennings, author of The New Lord of the Rings, believes that Samaranch let the abuses go on because he was afraid of alienating the IOC’s jet-setting members who had grown used to their lavish lifestyle. Up to now, almost all have remained loyal to him. But IOC officials in Lausanne fear that expelled members may not go quietly, and may begin implicating others and widen the scandal even further. One year ago, Samaranch told reporters that as the Olympic movement advanced on the millennium, “The biggest problem we have is we have no problems.” That’s one problem the Olympics no longer have.

BRENDA BRANSWELL

DANYLO HAWALESHKA