LONDON -- The Olympics have survived boycotts, world wars, terrorist murders and a fleeting association with Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.
But can they overcome greed?
That's the question facing the Games' guardians as they gather for watershed meetings next week at their opulent headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The International Olympic Committee is under fire over the bribery scandal in the awarding the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City. With about a quarter of the committee's membership implicated in the vote-buying affair, the IOC faces a make-or-break week as it begins the process of reform.
Many outside the organization are calling for major initiatives to transform one of the world's more exclusive private clubs into a democratic and open body. At stake is the organization's relationship with sponsors, athletes and spectators.
And IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who brought the Olympics from financial distress to unparalleled success, may feel the greatest pressure of all.
Does he stay? Or does he go?
"We've lost some standing in the international sports community and we have lost some standing with the public," said Craig Reedie, an IOC member from Britain. "But I don't think the concept of the Games has been lost with the public. We can only re-establish our standing and credibility by reacting quickly to the demands for reform."
In characteristic fashion, though, the IOC will carry on its discussions behind closed doors, with the organization's powerful executive committee convening prior to a special general assembly Wednesday and Thursday. The aim is to punish the wrongdoers and reform the the bid process.
"I must confess that I consider the coming extraordinary session one of the most important in our history, and the most important of my presidency," Samaranch wrote to IOC members in a letter dated Tuesday. "Our duty requires that we take concrete decisions, in some cases painful ones, for the whole world will be observing."
Reputations and careers are on the line. And in some ways, so is the future of the Olympics.
"For better or for worse, the Olympic Games are the ritual performance of the global system," said John J. MacAloon, a University of Chicago sociologist and Olympics historian. "They are the only truly international festival that we have. Naturally, the public is interested in insuring the leadership understands this is not a plaything for them to capitalize on. That's what a lot of the outrage is about."
For 105 years, IOC members tried to cultivate a reputation for fairness and virtue as chief arbiters of a global sporting event. In many ways, they were the world's last amateurs in an expanding sports marketplace.
Based in Switzerland and composed of selected volunteer members -- 114 before the scandal -- the IOC presides over its charter, ethics code and rules.
The committee normally is answerable to no one but itself. The panel owns the rights to one of the world's best-known symbols -- the five Olympic rings -- and one of the world's biggest and best-known sporting events -- the Olympic Games.
Part of the IOC's problem is that it is very much an old world, aristocratic institution. The fact that present crisis is centered in the United States also poses difficulties for an organization accustomed to working in private.
"It has blown up into a kind of little soap opera, of U.S. and European antagonisms," MacAloon said.
A blend of sporting grit and Olympic grandeur historically has enabled the IOC to gloss over failures that might have sunk any other sporting body.
The Olympics survived the murder of Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Summer Games in 1972 and boycotts in 1976, 1980 and 1984. The IOC also managed to gloss over the stain of the 1936 Nazi Olympics, when Hitler and his propagandists tried to use the event as a platform for their notion of Aryan superiority on the eve of World War II.
Yet the IOC has found the Salt Lake City scandal hard to shake, with revelations over four months undoing decades of carefully crafted image-making.
"This chapter will be part of our history," said Anita DeFrantz, an IOC vice president from the United States. She has denied allegations made by a former Salt Lake Olympic organizer that she knew of the vote-buying scheme.
Since the scandal erupted, 30 IOC members have been implicated. Four resigned. And an IOC investigative panel has recommended six for expulsion and announced the censure of two, while warning eight and exonerating three others. Cases against six others were dropped. One member died.
Yesterday three major power brokers were tarnished as the IOC panel recommended censure for Kim Un-yong, an executive board member from South Korea, and for Australian Phil Coles. The panel also issued a "very serious" warning to former IOC Vice President Vitaly Smirnov of Russia. Kim's case remains open, and he could face expulsion.
Final action on the panel's recommendations will come at the assembly meeting.