Clean up the Olympics

Bribery scandal: IOC President Samaranch should step down as reforms proceed.

January 31, 1999

INTEGRITY, rectitude and fair competition must define the Olympic Games. Faced with mounting evidence of rampant bribery in the selection of host cities, the self-perpetuating International Olympic Committee must clean up its act.

The charges: Salt Lake City paid IOC members to vote for it to host the 2002 Winter Games, after Nagano, Japan, did the same for the 1998 Winter Games. So far, six IOC members have been expelled, four have resigned and three more face expulsion at the group's March 17-18 meeting. Worldwide, some six investigations have begun.

The International Olympic Committee began as the hobby of high-minded amateurs, who accommodated Communist-nation officials after World War II. Now the IOC has 115 members, broadly representative of the world.

Some are wealthy. Some come from dirt-poor countries, others from former Communist nations. The temptations are obvious, but inexcusable nonetheless.

Obvious, too, is the reason that competing cities are desperate to be chosen as an Olympic host. The 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta pumped $1.5 billion into Georgia's economy and left $400 million worth of facilities.

Investigating the charges across boundaries is one legal nightmare. The prospect of loser cities suing for damages is another. Reopening venue decisions is an administrative impossibility. But the trust of corporate donors and sponsors is essential to future games.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the IOC, is its first full-time executive chief. In the job since 1980, the former Spanish cabinet minister and diplomat receives a hotel suite at IOC headquarters but no salary.

Samaranch, 78, appointed 94 of the 115 current members and basks in the credit when things go right. He is determined to complete his latest four-year term in 2001.

It recently came to light that the organizers of the failed Toronto bid for the 1996 games reported to the IOC that they were being shaken down. Nothing was done. Mr. Samaranch proposes to change the venue selection from a secret vote of the whole committee to a small group -- a change that would go the wrong way.

Athletes train for years for Olympic glory. They count on the integrity of the officials who police the games. The Olympic movement has orchestrated a gradual conversion to inevitable commercialism, while stoutly forbidding performance-enhancing drugs. This requires trust.

The IOC needs to clean house, publish ethical standards, police them, banish the agents who deliver votes and make the whole process transparent.

To create confidence in the reforms, Mr. Samaranch should step down. The Olympic ideal calls for sacrifice to attain noble results.

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