Sports

Olympic scandal

Did bribes influence the selection of sites?

JAMES DEACON December 28 1998
Sports

Olympic scandal

Did bribes influence the selection of sites?

JAMES DEACON December 28 1998

Olympic scandal

Sports

Did bribes influence the selection of sites?

Dick Pound didn't need the extra work. Last week, the Montreal tax lawyer who is also Canada's highest-ranking member on the International Olympic Committee was asked to investigate allegations of corruption within the organization. Reports said some IOC members had accepted “bribes”—university scholarships and free medical care for relatives, among other things—as rewards for supporting Salt Lake City’s bid to host the 2002 Winter Games. Marc Hodler, a senior Swiss Olympic official, also alleged that agents had “sold” blocks of votes to organizers of Games in Atlanta, Nagano, Japan, and Sydney, Australia. To clean up the worst scandal in the organization’s 104-year history, IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch called on the 56-year-old Pound, who handles TV rights negotiations for the IOC. “It’s not something I welcome personally, but it’s something I welcome for the organization,” he said of his new task after returning to Montreal from IOC offices in Lausanne, Switzerland. ‘We finally have the smoking guns, and we can go after these guys.”

“These guys” may not go quietly. Insiders say graft is a normal means of doing business for a handful of delegates, who peddle their votes in the site-selection process for personal gain. Pound and the four other board members on the investigating committee—from Senegal, Hungary, Germany and Belgium— have summoned Salt Lake’s records to see if credit card receipts, cancelled cheques and correspondence can trace how a $750,000 “humanitarian aid” fund was disbursed, and to whom. Pound said he expected to have the documents in hand before Christmas. But already, reports from Utah suggest as many as six relatives of IOC members, including the daughter of the late Rene Essomba, a delegate from Cameroon, had received college scholarships, jobs and other payoffs. Hodler blamed the illicit deals on agents who acted as liaisons between delegates and bid committees. But Pound said his investigation would concentrate on unmasking the IOC members and bid cities who willingly made the deals. “The agents thing is a bit of a red herring,” Pound said. “If you don’t have any clients, you don’t have any agents.”

Corruption is hardly new to the Olympics. The first recorded Games cheat was a man named Eupolus of Thessaly, who bribed three boxers to fake defeat in 388 BC. More recently, performance-enhancing drugs, crass commercialism and the lavish lifestyles of some senior IOC members—the 78-year-old Samaranch insists on being called “your excellency”—have fuelled pub-

lie skepticism that the Games could ever live up to their ideals. Jean Grenier, an official of the International Skating Union who led Quebec City’s bid for the 2002 Games, said he and other organizers turned down agents offering to deliver blocks of votes for a price. “I remember wondering at the time if we were a little naïve, playing by the rules of the game,” he said. “I guess we were.”

Defenders say that only a small percentage of IOC members sell their votes, and those who have worked on IOC committees says the policies against such behaviour are clearly defined. Mark Tewksbury, Canada’s 1992 gold medal swimmer, was on the 15-member site-evaluation commission that in 1996 reviewed all 11 candidate cities vying for the 2004 Summer Games. He said hosts gave them small gifts—inexpensive watches, local crafts and so on—but nothing extravagant. “Everyone knew the rules and we were very strict,” Tewksbury says, adding: “I was impressed with the process.” Hodler wasn’t, and he told reporters it is not enough to simply root out the pigs at the Salt Lake trough. The selection of future Olympic sites, he said, should be taken from the full IOC membership and given to the 11member board, which he suggested would ensure that cities are chosen on merit. Paul Henderson, who led the 1996 Toronto bid, says insiders have called for reform for years. But ironically, he says, the payoffs that spurred last week’s action were unnecessary. “Salt Lake was a slam dunk—it was going to win anyway,” Henderson says. “They didn’t need to do any of that stuff.”

Pound does not dispute the likelihood that vote-buying schemes plagued other Games bids, but for now he is focusing solely on Salt Lake City. “If we go fishing in several ponds, we are likely to keep finding the same fish,” he says. But Pound, who is frequently touted as a potential heir to Samaranch’s throne, knows that a major housecleaning of pocket-lining old boys could cost him support from countries whose delegates are exposed as corrupt. “If that’s the personal price I have to pay to get this done, then so be it,” he says matter-of-factly. “But I think the overwhelming majority of IOC members want to see this cleaned up.”

JAMES DEACON