An Olympic charge of stooping for gold Scandal: Charges of IOC payoffs for site selection cast pall over Games that must be lifted.

December 23, 1998

OLYMPIC scandals are nothing new. The International Olympic Committee has fought endlessly against cheating and drugs that make competition unfair and endanger athletes' health.

But in the latest Olympic scandal, the IOC is left pointing at itself.

Marc Hodler, an 80-year-old Swiss habitue of the IOC inner circle, charges that bribery and payoffs led to selection of host cities Atlanta, Nagano, Sydney and Salt Lake City. In recent days, allegations have focused on the Salt Lake City bid committee and actions it may have taken to secure the 2002 Winter Games -- including gifts, free medical care and scholarships for members of the IOC, their relatives and friends.

Now that the scandal is in the open, only full and public investigation and release of findings can clear the air and restore the Olympics' gold purity. On Tuesday, Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell announced that he has agreed to lead such an investigation for the U.S. Olympic Committee, the body that chooses the U.S. cities that compete internationally to host the Games.

Mr. Hodler, who headed the International Ski Federation for 47 years, charges that bribes of millions of dollars are involved and that a small network of agents has been buying and selling the votes of a few of the 115 IOC members for a decade. In its own damage-control efforts, the IOC announced this week that it has scheduled a meeting Jan. 24 to deal with IOC members who acted improperly in deciding the Salt Lake bid.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, the long-serving IOC president, has insisted the Games will be freed of corruption even if it means demanding the resignations of some IOC members. Depending on the IOC's findings next month, Mr. Samaranch also must be willing to call in outside competent authorities, including prosecutors of the appropriate nations.

The Washington-Baltimore bid for the 2012 Summer Games is a great exercise for leaders of the two metropolitan areas. But if bribing IOC members and agents is needed to win, this region must be willing to lose.

The bid should be pursued. The IOC air should be cleared and reforms, if needed, undertaken before the 2012 Games are decided.

This process should be as clean as a 200-meter sprint. The Olympics must be ruthlessly honest, or they are not worth holding.

Pub Date: 12/23/98

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