Sunday, January 17, 1999

Olympic chief follows path of our president




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        He should have resigned a long time ago, but he is shameless. The scandal grows, the corruption is clear, and the ideals he is sworn to protect have been permanently tarnished. But he will not budge.

        An honorable man would have seen the need to step down, but this man has become intoxicated by power. His job means more to him now than the greater good, more than the institution he represents. He is determined to finish his term, no matter how much damage it does.

        We refer here to Juan Antonio Samaranch, though it is certainly possible to see some parallels to another amoral politician. The president of the International Olympic Committee is ultimately responsible for what happens on his watch, including the disgraceful developments in Salt Lake City, but Samaranch seems to share Bill Clinton's curious sense of accountability.

        “I have been elected by the IOC members,” Samaranch told the Associated Press Thursday. “If I have the confidence of the members of the IOC, I will remain as president of the IOC until the last minute of my mandate.”

        This is not what we need to hear. With each new vote-buying bombshell in Salt Lake City, the need for new Olympic leadership becomes more acute. Samaranch has run the IOC for 18 years, and has turned a blind eye toward corruption for so long that it has become a ravenous cancer.

A corrupt list
        The discovery of the Salt Lake bid committee's scholarship fund, ostensibly established for the education of IOC relatives, has led investigators to a series of more tawdry revelations: Cash payments, sweetheart land deals, lavish gifts, jobs, free medical care. There have even been allegations IOC members were provided with prostitutes in an effort to advance Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

        Money for nothing. Chicks for free. Some gig, the IOC.

        “They can't even get their own dates?” asked Dick Pound, the Canadian leading the IOC's investigation.

        The full scope of the scandal is not yet known, but five separate probes are now in progress, and the FBI is involved. A federal grand jury will soon convene to hear evidence of tax fraud and bribery.

        What has turned up so far is already enough to turn any Olympic idealist into a cynic, and the news may get worse if investigators examine the site selection process of previous Olympic Games.

        Salt Lake City's approach to winning the Games was not an aberration, but widely acknowledged as standard Olympic procedure. At least since 1984, when Peter Ueberroth proved the Summer Games could be profitable, a vigorous vote-buying market has existed.

Storm on his watch
        Samaranch has been in charge throughout this period, and by failing to crack down on abuses he has encouraged them. The IOC has gained considerable power during his tenure, but its lost prestige may be irretrievable.

        “We had wonderful years,” Samaranch told the AP. “We had wonderful Games. And now we are in a storm.”

        To date, the tempest has prompted the resignation of Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Frank Joklik and his senior vice president, Dave Johnson. Alfredo La Mont, the United States Olympic Committee's director of international affairs, resigned Thursday because of his role in wooing votes for Salt Lake City. Before this case is closed, heads will be rolling as if it were the French Revolution.

        The IOC is expected to identify at least nine members who took improper gifts on Jan. 24. Those who do not resign will likely be expelled in a special meeting in March.

        Samaranch, however, appears immovable, an enduring symbol of arrogance and negligence. He intends to hold his office until his term expires in 2001, and the few Olympic officials who have advocated his removal lack the leverage to force him out.

        Impeachment, anyone?

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE