Saving the Games

Richard Pound has introduced major reforms to polish the IOC’s tarnished rings

JAMES DEACON February 8 1999

Saving the Games

Richard Pound has introduced major reforms to polish the IOC’s tarnished rings

JAMES DEACON February 8 1999

Saving the Games


Richard Pound has introduced major reforms to polish the IOC’s tarnished rings


There are newspapers, file folders, books, family photos and probably some really important stuff on Richard Pound’s desk 39 floors above the corner of Peel Street and René Lévesque Boulevard.

Shelves, chairs and all other level surfaces in the office are similarly strewn with sheaves adorned by stick-on notes demanding immediate attention. When a guest arrives and sits down, Pound has to trim the top half off a couple of piles in order to be seen from across the desk. The volume of work goes with the territories over which he presides. Last week, Pound was confirmed as the new chancellor of Montreal’s McGill University, one of two prominent volunteer positions he holds outside his job as a senior tax lawyer at the Montreal office of Stikeman, Elliott.

The McGill appointment should be cause for celebration, but Pound is looking as grey as the January day outside his windows. That is because of his other volunteer post, with the International Olympic Committee. As head of the IOC’s in-house investigation into the Salt Lake City, Utah, bribery and corruption scandal, Pound has spent much of the past seven weeks on airplanes and is suffering from a near-permanent state of jet lag. He has no time for fatigue. Allegations from Salt Lake and other cities that bid for recent Olympic Games have made it clear that the IOC is sick, and aging president Juan Antonio Samaranch handed Pound the job of convincing a skeptical public that the organization is capable of healing itself. “It’s not impossible,” he says, his voice tired but firm. “The real thing is not so much that a crisis has struck—it’s what you do once it happens that counts.”

Which begs the billion-dollar question: can Dick Pound save the Games? He certainly has the credentials. More than any single person,

he is credited with the current flush financial state of the so-called Olympic movement. As head of marketing for the IOC, he has helped make the Olympic rings one of the most recognized and lucrative logos on Earth, and he has negotiated billions of dollars worth of TV contracts to ensure solvency through the 2008 Summer Games. But all that was easy compared with his list of chores since the Salt Lake scandal broke in midDecember. He has grilled culprits and Utah officials, examined financial records, written a report that recommended expulsion of six of his colleagues, proposed reforms of the host-city selection process, answered dozens of interview requests and soothed the concerns of sponsors and TV executives who pour the aforementioned billions into every Games.

That may not be enough. Pound is at the centre of the scandal not just in his role as chief investigator. He has been near the top of the IOC’s steep pyramid since 1983, long enough to be viewed as guilty by association. After all, the IOC’s leaders had heard reports of corruption for more than a decade, yet agreed to institute an independent ethics panel only after the scandal finally gave them no choice. Samaranch contends that the IOC could not take action earlier because it did not have the necessary evidence—none of the previous bidding cities had ever named names. But that explanation does not satisfy critics, who now are clamouring for Samaranch to step down (page 20). “How can you rebuild the public’s trust if Samaranch is still there?” asks Mark Tewksbury, Canada’s 1992 gold-medal swimmer. He added: “The IOC is the last bastion of aristocracy and that has to change.”

Pound claims the IOC needs steady leadership right now because its board members are all volunteers. “In the business model, there’s the seven-figure cheque and the ritual beheading,” Pound says. “In an organization like ours, the stability of the leadership is important because we don’t work with each other every day. The executive board meets five times a year, and the members meet only once a year.”

But Samaranch’s continued presence reinforces the fact that, for all its public profile, the secretive IOC is completely unaccountable. And the longer he stays, the more potential successors— such as Pound—will be linked to the corrupt Old Boys club. Even without graft, they enjoy plenty of perks, and the membership’s exorbitant travel expenses have become a flash point for critics.

Still, surveys indicate that companies and fans care more about the Games than about other sporting events because of the association with Olympic integrity, a quaint notion that now seems an oxymoron. Aware of the apparent hypocrisy, Pound says the IOC needs to institute dramatic and immediate change to restore public and corporate support. The first step to reclaiming the high ground comes at a March 17 to 18 session in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the full membership will vote on the reforms tabled in last week’s post-investigation report. “I don’t think we measured up on this occasion,” he says. “We will in future.”

Pound is prepared to back up that claim. In addition to the six IOC members named in last week’s report, three more—including Vitaly Smirnov of Russia and current IOC vice-president Kim Un-Yong of South Korea—are under suspicion for offences that, if proven, will result in their expulsion. Late in the week, Pound said “an indefinite number” of other members had been added to his continuing investigation. His report also recommended reforms to the host-city bidding process that would keep delegates from visiting candidate cities and bid committees from travelling to visit IOC members. And it called for the creation of an independent ethics panel to investigate future complaints against IOC members. If the slate of recommendations and reforms do not get the two-thirds majority support from the full membership in March, Pound says he will resign. “My guess is that our whole commission would go, and the entire executive board would go,” he explains, “because it was a unanimous recommendation.”

Ordinarily, Pound has the energetic countenance of an Ayn Rand hero, albeit one with a saltier vocabulary, who is usually known for his blunt and strongly held opinions. He is a detail guy who can also grasp the big picture, something he attributes to his accounting and legal training. “Both of those disciplines are essentially problem-solving,” he says. “The legal one is also useful, I find, for conceptualizing.”

His two volunteer positions, meanwhile, reflect the value he places on his own involvement with education and sports. “Both teach you that nothing comes without preparation,” he says.

“The more you work at something, the better you get.” Then, putting on his glasses, he turns and puts his index finger on a tiny square of yellowed newsprint that he has clipped from a paper and taped to the wall beside his desk. Squinting, he reads a quote from, of all people, hairdresser Vidal Sassoon: “ ‘The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.’ ”

It was while studying at McGill that Pound got his first Olympic experience, swimming freestyle and breaststroke for Canada at the Rome Games in 1960. Later, he became a nationally ranked squash player— “That was a triumph of enthusiasm over ability,” he claims. He still plays squash, although he is slowed by his schedule and by a nagging foot injury, and in summer he plays golf on Sundays at a club south of Montreal with his second wife, Julie, and family—he has three children and two stepchildren between 26 and 32. In his office, he points to a framed picture of his son Duncan, who is an RCMP officer stationed in Whistler, B.C. “I wish he’d broken up a certain party last winter,” Pound jokes, referring to the infamous going-away bash staged for Ross Rebagliati that was blamed for the snowboarder’s positive test for marijuana in the Nagano Olympics.

The accumulated evidence against corrupt colleagues was disheartening, Pound says, but not surprising. “We had heard the rumours about IOC members on the take, but no one ever came forward with the goods,” he says. Lately, his Olympic duties have cut more deeply into his personal time and his law practice. But he maintains it is worthwhile, not just for his own ambitions but for the broader impact of the Games. “It may sound a little Pollyannaish, but I really think the Olympic movement is a force for good,” Pound explains. “Good things happen when kids practise sport and when volunteers go to swim meets and act as timers, and as long as that goes on, then the Olympics have a tremendous amount to offer.”

TV networks clearly agree. Alan Clark, head of CBC Sports, says that even as the scandal deepened last month, network sales staff were selling advertising time for CBC’s coverage of the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. Clark says bidding between his network and CTV over broadcast rights is completely transparent. “When you go to meet Dick, you don’t go bearing gifts,” Clark says. “He is very straightforward—you get the terms of the bid, and both parties know exactly where they stand.”

Pound ‘has done every tough job the IOC has had for years’

The Salt Lake scandal and the IOC’s slow response to previous allegations have left everyone with mud on their faces. But many inside the Olympic world, from athletes and officials to sponsors and TV executives, believe Pound may offer the Games’ best shot at redemption. For one thing, he is not afraid to take unpopular positions. When Samaranch cunningly engineered another four-year term by staging a public vote in 1995 to extend the retirement age to 80, Pound was the only senior official to object. “He is willing at critical times to put philosophy above politics,” says Ken Read, the former Crazy Canuck who is now a Calgary-based broadcaster and marketing executive and who hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye with Pound.

As for pushing through the necessary reforms, Read adds: “Dick has the intellect and the training, and my sense is that he is not alone in this. There are other members who are equally committed to doing the right thing.” Paul Henderson, who led Toronto’s failed 1996 bid, says Pound has earned his prominence by being, to use a sports phrase, the organization’s “go-to” guy. “He has done every tough job the IOC has had for years,” Henderson says. “The investigation was just this year’s tough job.”

Pound is again at odds with Samaranch. The 78year-old Spaniard told the German magazine Die Zeit last week that his successor ought to be a paid professional. But Pound strongly objects to that model, saying the IOC already has a fully paid staff to handle day-to-day operations. “My view is that because you would be at the head of an essentially volunteer movement, I think you’re far more effective and believable as president if you’re not being paid for it,” he explained. “The furthest I would go is that, while you are serving, you only get your expenses reimbursed, but when you retire, you might get, say, 10,000 Swiss francs for each year of service as president, so that you wouldn’t lose what you would have been able to save had you kept working.” There are no shoo-ins to succeed Samaranch. In addition to Pound, three of the four other members of the inquiry panel—Hungary’s Pal Schmitt, Germany’s Thomas Bach and Belgium’s Jacques Rogge— are all considered worthy candidates. Pound, though, appears to have made the most enemies, particularly with South Korea’s Kim. And last week, another of the Salt Lake culprits, IOC member Jean-Claude Ganga of the Republic of Congo, hinted at improprieties in the awarding of rich TV contracts, and alleged that the IOC’s investigators were simply trying to eliminate the competition in the fight to succeed Samaranch. Both comments were unsubtle digs at Pound, who handles the biggest TV deals and is the leading contender for Samaranch’s chair. But Pound only shrugs. “Ganga,” he grumbles, shaking his head, “wouldn’t know a TV contract from a road map.”

Jean Grenier, an official with Quebec City’s bid for the 2002 Games, says it is ridiculous to suggest that Pound sought the investigation for political gain, because the process is plainly threatening to at least some members. “This could be like a Greek gift, like the horse of Troy,” Grenier says of the job. Pound says he had no choice—Samaranch simply appointed him and that was that.

Pound’s forthright approach is often a liability in the highly political world of the IOC. Standing against Samaranch in 1995 nearly cost him his vice-presidency in an election the following year— he won by just two votes over Ashwini Kumar of India. Domestically, members of Toronto’s 2008 committee bristled at Pound’s suggestion that they rethink their bid in light of competing proposals from Paris and Beijing. But associates say it is naiVe to think Pound will be a homer. “There’s no question in my mind that if it comes down to something for Canada versus something for the movement as a whole, his first loyalty is to the movement,”

Can Canadians endorse a greying tax lawyer as their new Olympic champion? He might well be the boardroom equivalent of speed skater Catriona Le May Doan, someone worth cheering. But considering the daily glut of scandal emanating from an organization in which Pound has held such a key position, there is also the risk that he might turn out to be Ben Johnson.

If the reforms get instituted, the scoundrels get expelled and the Olympic ship gets righted, Pound could emerge as the favourite to become the next president. That may happen sooner rather than later: there are whispers that Samaranch may be nudged into retirement if all goes well at the March meetings. “He doesn’t want to have the end of his presidency marred by something like this,” Pound says, “so I think he is determined to fix it. What he will do after he fixes it, I don’t know—he has 2% years left on his term.”

Does Pound actually want to succeed Samaranch? He says he isn’t always sure himself. “Some days, I have absolutely no interest in it at all,” he says. “Other days, I think that if you got to be in the centre seat, then maybe you could do some interesting things.” Such as? He shrugs—that’s looking too far ahead, and he isn’t about to show his cards. It may well be a moot point if the membership doesn’t endorse the recommendations of the investigating committee next month in Lausanne. “I think that a considerable number of members who do not need this will resign, and that, I think, is far more dangerous than having some of the bad guys onboard,” he warns. “If the good ones say, We’re out of here,’ then there is a real problem.”

one Canadian Olympic Association official said off the record. “And really, that’s the way it should be.”

The as-yet-unformed ethics commission, to be composed mainly of legal experts from around the world, will investigate bids from cities other than Salt Lake’s. That will likely add to the IOC’s roster of discredited members, some of whom, like Ganga, may not give up their posts quietly. “The standards of conduct within the IOC are fairly clear, and I think the majority of members have a good idea of what’s right and what’s not right,” Pound says. “I am hoping we are not going to have any trouble at the session in March.”

If he were to resign under those conditions, what would his legacy be? The TV deals? The marketing? He sits quietly for more than a minute. “I hope I am not at the stage of life when all I can do is remember,” he says. “But maybe my legacy at that point—for leaving for that reason—would be that I left.” □


How much of a moneymaker have the Olympics become? Revenues from the Nagano Winter Games of 1998 and the Sydney Summer Games of 2000 are expected to reach $3.5 billion (U.S). While corporate sponsors account for 36 per cent of that sum, the biggest contributor—about half of the total—is television. A rundown of the exponential growth in TV rights fees:

WINTER GAMES (in millions U.S.) 1980 Lake Placid $21 1984 Sarajevo 103 1988 Calgary 325 1992 Albertville 292 1994 Lillehammer 353 1998 Nagano 513 2002 Salt Lake City 726* 2006 Undecided 805*

SUMMER GAMES (in millions U.S.) 1980 Moscow $101 1984 Los Angeles 287 1988 Seoul 403 1992 Barcelona 636 1996 Atlanta 595 2000 Sydney 1,272* 2004 Athens 1,427* 2008 Undecided 1,630* ♦RIGHTS FEE NEGOTIATED TO DATE