Column

At last, the dirty little secret is out

The freeloading old geezers with dubious titles who award the Olympic Games have been on the take for years

Jane O’Hara January 11 1999
Column

At last, the dirty little secret is out

The freeloading old geezers with dubious titles who award the Olympic Games have been on the take for years

Jane O’Hara January 11 1999

At last, the dirty little secret is out

Column

The freeloading old geezers with dubious titles who award the Olympic Games have been on the take for years

Jane O’Hara

If freeloading was an Olympic sport, many of the 118 members of the International Olympic Committee would be serial gold medallists. For years, these elderly toffs have been shamelessly hauling their bandy-legged bodies from first-class flights to shiny black limos to five-star hotels in dozens of cities around the world that have vied to host the Olympic Games.

Although nameless and faceless to the public at large, this cartel of self-aggrandizing geezers with dubious titles—the Grand Due of this, the Marquess of that—has, with imperious whims and caviar tastes, held bidding cities to ransom.

Last month, this dirty little Olympic secret, once known to only the few, came to worldwide attention when Marc Hodler, an IOC member since 1963, blew the whistle on an extensive scheme of vote-buying, bribery and corruption in the awarding of the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City. This came as no great surprise to people who have followed the secretive machinations of the Switzerland-based IOC. To them, the picking of cities to host the Summer and Winter Games has had a sour odour for a long time.

“It makes you sick,” said one Olympic insider who has rolled out the red carpet for this jet-setting crew in the hope of currying favour and securing their votes. ‘There’s a protocol set up for treating them like visiting heads of state. It’s something you wouldn’t mind doing for someone who deserved it, but these guys are nobodies.”

The nobodies are almost all the handpicked cronies of IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, the mysterious 78-year-old Spaniard with the spare frame and the oversized head who has ruled the Games with an iron fist since 1980. Only 12 women—three of them members of royalty—have made the lofty leap to the IOC since first being admitted in 1981. This came at the urging of the corporate sponsors who were nervous about the IOC’s exclusive old boys’ club image. Most of the rest got there because of their connections in sports, business or politics. Among them: Shamil Tarpischev, the former tennis coach of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and Mohamad Hasan, a close friend of former Indonesian dictator Suharto.

No one questions Samaranch’s business acumen. He has transformed the Olympics from a logo-free amateur sportsfest into a commercial piñata. While billions have poured in from television and corporate sponsors to enrich the IOC, host cities, curiously, still require large amounts of public money to finance the Games. And the athletes, who put on the Olympic show, see comparatively little of the riches that reach IOC coffers.

Unaccountably, the public has shown almost no interest in the seamy politics of the IOC. But British author Andrew Jennings has made it his life’s work and has written a carefully researched and

heavily referenced 360-page book, The New Lord of the Ring Published in 1996, it outlines Samaranch’s rise to power from h days as a city councillor and sports official in Spain’s fasci government of Francisco Franco. “Samaranch was an enthusiast servant of the Franco regime,” writes Jennings. “He wore tl fascist uniform and gave the straight-arm salute until the very en He revelled in his duty to control and deliver sport to the great glory of the fascist regime.”

The book describes Samaranch’s attempts to garner the Nob Peace Prize for himself and the IOC. While many would agree th Samaranch had made the Olympics a safe place for multination corporations to do business, it’s a real stretch to suggest the Gamt have done anything for world peace. But Samaranch had alreac been awarded one peace prize—the Seo Peace Prize, bestowed by the organizers the 1988 Games in the South Korean capifi Samaranch was a shoo-in as the first recipie: of this honour since one of the Koreans r sponsible for awarding the prize was Kim L Yong—Samaranch’s right-hand man and member of the IOC executive board.

Using that as a springboard, Samaranc targeted 1994 as the year to win the Nob Prize. That was the year Norway—home the Nobel Prize—hosted the Lillehammi Winter Games. Jennings takes great delig] in noting how Samaranch began pepperir his speeches with talk of world peace and i ternational harmony. On the eve of the 19Í Olympics in Albertville, France, Samaranc seemed to take partial credit for the fall of tl Berlin Wall: “We are feeling the effects of tl wind of freedom that is blowing across oi planet,” he said. “It’s a phenomenon we [IO( often helped to create.”

Samaranch didn’t get his Nobel and in 1995, when he turned 75, looked as though he was going to have to leave the IOC presidenc without it. But the ultimate backroom boy soon fixed that—-with resolution to the IOC congress to raise the mandatory retiremei age to 80. That effectively left him in power until 2001, and allowc the other dodderers five more years at the Olympic trough.

Without question, Samaranch’s reputation has been irreparab damaged by the vote-buying scandal. According to Jenning Samaranch knew that the rapacious appetites of some of his 10 colleagues had gotten out of hand, but he risked alienating them if! took too much away too soon. Still, in the mid-1990s, he limited son of their perks and privileges, decreeing that trips to bid cities cou last no more than three days and the value of gifts could n exceed $150 (U.S.). In the wake of the scandal, Samaranch hi announced further curbs: trips to bid cities are suspended. Given th these junkets were among the favourite pursuits of the freeloader the loss of the perk is bound to provoke war in the Olympic familyand might be just the thing that will lead to Samaranch’s downfall.