COVER

IT STARTS AT THE TOP

Critics call for Samaranch to step down from the IOC

JANE O’HARA February 8 1999
COVER

IT STARTS AT THE TOP

Critics call for Samaranch to step down from the IOC

JANE O’HARA February 8 1999

IT STARTS AT THE TOP

Critics call for Samaranch to step down from the IOC

JANE O’HARA

In his nearly 19 years as the King of the Rings, elfin Juan Antonio Samaranch has been a towering presence. Using a system of fear and favours, he has maintained tight control over the 114 delegates of the International Olympic Committee—about 90 of whom he personally picked. In mid-December, when Marc Hodler, a Swiss IOC member, levelled allegations of corruption and bribery, Samaranch sniffed that those were “not official comments”—and ordered Hodler, a 36-year IOC veteran, to stop speaking to the media. Last week, as the Olympic scandal of bid-rigging and graft gathered steam, IOC members were indeed speaking up—to defend the imperious president who insists on being called “Your Excellency.” But around the world, a rising chorus of critics—sports officials, politicians and athletes—are demanding his ouster. “Mr. Samaranch is the conductor of the whole thing,” Lars Egger tz, a member of the Falun, Sweden, group that lost a bid for the 1992 Winter Games, told Maclean’s. “He is the one responsible for all his members. They are all fed from his hand.”

Last week, the 78-year-old Samaranch sternly maintained that the allegations of wrongdoing had taken him totally by surprise. That was nonsense, according to a group of Toronto businessmen who spent $16.8 million in a bid for the 1996 Summer Games, which eventually went to Atlanta. Eight years ago, they sent a report to Samaranch and other key IOC officials—including Canadian Richard Pound—complaining that the demands and scams of 26 IOC members had cost them about $800,000. The report, which called for reform in the bidding process, depicts the visiting IOC members as jet-setting kleptomaniacs feeding off the goodwill of their hosts.

Some IOC members redeemed first-class airline tickets for cash. Others demanded outlandish gifts of “cash, jewelry or other items easily converted to cash,” the report said. On shopping trips around Toronto, it added, “the bid-city host was expected to pay for all the purchases made by not only the member, but the guests as well.”

At a news conference last week, Norman Seagram, one of the Toronto bid officials, said that after the report was sent to Lausanne “we were met with silence.” Pound responded that the IOC asked the Toronto bidders for the names of the culprits—and never received them. IOC officials, he added, made some changes in response to the complaints: in particular, they took charge of travel arrangements to stop the practice of members pocketing money after cashing in first-class airline tickets for economy fares.

Clearly, that wasn’t enough to stop the other abuses that have sullied the reputation of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. According to American Robert Helmick, who resigned from the IOC in 1991 over his own conflict-of-interest charges, the shady practices have long been an open secret within the organiza| tion. It’s a culture, says Helmick, that has stopped con! centrating on the needs of athletes and devoted itself ë to the members’ creature comforts. Helmick, still a diÖ rector with the U.S. Olympic Committee, concluded: I “Nothing short of the departure of Samaranch and his close associates will allow the sweeping changes needed to restore public confidence in the Olympic Games.”

The IOC, obviously, doesn’t see it that way. By week’s end, its internal cleanup campaign, headed by Pound, had resulted in four resignations; five others have been suspended and recommended for expulsion, and “an indefinite number” of others, Pound said, remain under investigation. Of the four who have resigned, three are African —and some observers were quick to cry racism. In Nairobi, Charles Mukora—regarded as a local hero for helping to establish Kenya as a dominant power in middleand long-distance running—admitted that he received $34,000 (U.S.) from Salt Lake City organizers. But he maintains that, far from pocketing the money, he used it to build a high-altitude training camp in his home town. Mukora Thiongo, secretary general of the Kenya Amateur Wrestling Association, said the expelled delegates were simply scapegoats for an organization “riddled with wrongdoing from head to toe.” Added Thiongo: “The whole system is corrupt and Africa has been singled out for punishment.”

That corruption has spurred some cities to action. A growing number of would-be Olympic hosts that have lost out in the past decade are now demanding their money back—and are threatening legal moves that could ensnarl the IOC in nasty, costly and prolonged legal battles. Last week, officials in Manchester, England, instructed city lawyers to explore the possibility of recouping the $9 million (U.S.) they spent in a bid to win the 2000 Games, which went to Sydney, Australia. They are trying to co-ordinate their attempt with other losing cities, like Quebec City, which announced on Jan. 24 that it will seek the $12 million it spent before losing to Salt Lake City. “If the selection competition was unfair and corrupt,” said Manchester city council member Richard Leese, “then the IOC should consider compensating Manchester and other bid cities.” The 2004 Summer Olympics have become particularg ly contentious. Margaretta Olofsson, deputy mayor of 1 Stockholm, announced plans to seek a refund of the $24 I million (U.S.) the Swedish city spent in a fruitless at£ tempt to stage those Games, which were won by Athens. “ Francesco Rutelli, mayor of Rome, another also-ran, 1 called for the appointment of an impartial committee to conduct an entirely new vote. “A panel of IOC experts and athletes gave Rome the No. 1 spot on the list of candidates,” Rutelli claimed. “Until 24 hours before the vote, we were in the lead. And then—who knows what happened?” Not surprisingly, the Roman suggestion did not find favour in Athens, where Lambis Nikolaou of the Hellenic Olympic Committee responded: “The vote is closed. The Games were given cleanly. The doors are open, the dogs are tied up, and they can come and examine whatever they want.”

In an ironic twist, even Salt Lake City—which up to now has been at the epicentre of the Olympic payoff scandal—wants to renegotiate its IOC financial commitments. In particular, officials there want to scale back on the royal treatment expected by IOC members when they descend on the city for the 2002 Games. Ken Bullock, a Salt Lake official, said he has found $10 million (U.S.) worth of IOC expenses “that would turn your stomach.” The most egregious: $2.6 million for hotels where IOC members and their families will stay, including $60,000 for Samaranch’s suite and $30,000 in lobby decorations; a $1.1-million transportation system, including chauffeurs; $650,000 in breakfasts; and $16,000 for trailers at outdoor events so IOC members won’t have to sit in the cold. Deflecting the controversy, U.S. IOC member Anita DeFrantz said last week: “Let’s not assume the IOC is all take. We provide a lot of money to organizing committees.”

Othmar Stein, the media director for the 1988 Calgary Olympics, sympathizes with the folks from Salt Lake. Even now, 11 years after the Calgary Games, he is irked by the high-and-mighty demands of

these sultans of sport. IOC protocols required that blocks of free tickets and reserved seats be set aside for its members, their families and corporate sponsors. “Half the time they would not show up,” Stein, now a vice-president for public and government affairs at Chrysler Canada, told Maclean’s. The IOC also wanted limos on call 24 hours a day. Calgary said no to that but promised that a car would be at the door for any IOC member within 15 minutes of calling. “This twisted their noses out of joint,” said Stein. “They expected to be treated like royalty or heads of state. Western Canadians, we are pretty normal people, and we laughed about it. This rankled them no end.”

Public cynicism could have dire consequences for the Games. Corporate sponsors, after all, pay millions for the privilege of cashing in on the cachet of the Olympic rings, and already one of them, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. president David D’Alessandro, has said the scandals have made the sponsorships “radioactive.” Even if the sponsors don’t balk and pull out, the scandal could scare off future bidders for the Games. Officials in Vancouver/Whistler, vying to host the 2010 Winter Games, and Toronto, bidding for the 2008 Olympiad, publicly maintain that the new rules aimed at purifying the bidding process may actually work in their favour. And last week, David Crombie, the former Toronto mayor now heading up his city’s bid, tried to shore up dwindling public and political support for the Games. Crombie said the $40 million once budgeted for the bid could be halved in light of the IOC’s new rule changes banning its freeloading members from visiting bid cities—and he reiterated his promise that the bid would be open and aboveboard.

In an atmosphere charged with suspicion, however, there were already questions. Last year, the Toronto committee paid $35,000 to Mahmoud El-Farnawani, now living in a Toronto suburb, to show them the ins and outs of the Olympic scene. El-Farnawani is well known to IOC officials as one of a number of agents and middlemen who made a living introducing bidding cities to IOC members —lobbyists whom Pound has promised to put out of business. Crombie cancelled ElFarnawani’s contract in April after paying him for six months. “I didn’t think it was going to be a fit,” Crombie told Maclean’s. “His job, so far as we were concerned, ended. He had provided me with advice on which cities, at least from his own point of view, might be coming in to bid. What the views were of various people in various international sport organizations. So, in a sense, he completed the contract.”

HOW MANY WILL FALL?

Six men singled out by Pound for expulsion from the IOC

No matter how the Olympic scandal ultimately plays out, many athletes already feel cheated. Swimmer Mark Tewksbury, the 1992 Olympic gold medallist in the 100-m backstroke, called a news conference last week to say that his Olympic ideals have been shattered, his medal devalued. He called for Samaranch to resign and for the IOC to be completely restructured. “Ben Johnson,” Tewksbury said of the disgraced sprinter, “didn’t do anything worse than the

A growing number of spurned cities want their money back

corrupt IOC members.” Added Britain’s Menzies Campbell, a former Olympic short-distance runner, now a liberal Democratic MP: “There’s a danger the world will reach the conclusion that the Games are for drug-takers in track suits and bribe-takers in blazers.”

Former Canadian speed skater Neal Marshall said the athletes had heard rumours of Olympic corruption but had neither the time nor the political clout to do anything about it. “On the one hand, it’s nice that finally something has come to light,” said Marshall, 29, a three-time Olympian and former worldrecord holder in the 1,500and 3,000-m events. But Marshall, who now does TV commentary and coaches part time, said he wonders whether the current investigation is “just damage control.” Looking out across the ice at Calgary’s Olympic Oval, he added: “There should be a whole new investigation by an outside party. It can’t be done with the IOC investigating itself.” And, many critics insist, it can’t be done with Juan Antonio Samaranch still in power.

BARRY CAME

DAVID GOUGH

MARY NEMETH

JOHN NICOL

SUSAN McCLELLAND