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BREAKING POINT
E.M. Swift
February 01, 1999
YEARS OF GREED AND CORRUPTION HAVE CAUGHT UP AT LAST WITH THE INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE
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February 01, 1999

Breaking Point

YEARS OF GREED AND CORRUPTION HAVE CAUGHT UP AT LAST WITH THE INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE

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Actually, NBC is paying the IOC $3-5 billion for the U.S. television rights for all Olympics through 2008. a deal Pound says is a terrific one for the IOC. However, rival networks, which were not given the opportunity to submit proposals for Games beyond 2000, remain suspicious of the two swiftly negotiated 1995 contracts that locked up the Olympics for NBC. Rumors of additional multimillion-dollar payments and huge consulting fees have smoldered around the deals, though no one has produced evidence of wrongdoing.

The IOC invites such suspicions because it is rife with political logrolling and conflicts of interest. How could the IOC fail to see at least the appearance of impropriety in the two hats worn by Alex Gilady, an IOC member from Israel who sits on the Olympic body's television commission while also serving as a senior vice president at NBC Sports? Jim Easton of the U.S., the president of the International Archery Federation and an IOC member since 1994, is also president of Easton Sports, which makes, among other sporting goods, archer equipment.

"There are no IOC regulations regarding conflicts of interest," says Helmick, who says he was once asked by Adidas to represent it. Helmick says that when he questioned whether that would be appropriate, given that Adidas and the IOC's marketing partner, ISL, were both owned by Horst Dassler, Helmick was told by Adidas that it had other IOC members under contract. Published reports have identified one of those members as Pound, an allegation Pound denies. He admits that his law firm occasionally bills the IOC for legal work but says he personally gets no money from the deals or the IOC's television negotiations.

Still, little effort is made to discourage the appearance of conflicts, a failing that contributes to a sense that the ultrasecretive IOC is fundamentally corrupt. Protestations by top-level IOC members—Samaranch, Pound and other members of the executive board—that they had no evidence of malfeasance before the stories began coming out of Salt Lake City are nonsense. In 1986 Wolf Lyberg, secretary general of the Swedish Olympic Committee, wrote Pound to complain that an IOC member had asked for sex from a woman member of the committee representing the city of Falun in its bid for the '92 Winter Games. Pound reportedly wrote back saying that while he was sympathetic, "without a formal request it's very difficult to do anything." Why the IOC would have to wait for a "formal request," whatever that means, to look into such an accusation is unclear. For years SI (Oct. 27,1986 et seq.) and other media outlets have written about the shameless excesses and alleged improprieties of IOC members and bid committees, reports largely ignored in Lausanne.

Samaranch has set the tone for the IOC's arrogance and sense of entitlement. Before he took over the presidency in 1980, IOC representatives had to pay their own way to cities bidding for the Games. Within a year they were getting not one but two first-class tickets from prospective cities, plus all expenses. In '83 spending money of $100 a day was added to the package required of bid cities. His Excellency has long insisted on being treated as a head of state. A sedan and a driver aren't good enough; a limousine has to meet him everywhere. He demands not just a suite, but the presidential suite, the finest hotel room in the city. The IOC, at a cost of some $500,000 a year, rents a massive suite that takes up half the top floor of the Palace Hotel to house Samaranch when he stays in Lausanne.

Can the IOC cleanse itself? Despite the brave words from Lausanne, words meant partly to calm the queasiness of corporate sponsors (of which Time Inc., the parent company of SI, is one), there's reason to wonder. In the final analysis Samaranch's organization answers to no one but itself. Of the remaining 112 members (as of Monday), 90 have been appointed by Samaranch. They have been weaned in an Olympian culture of greed. If Samaranch steps down—as has been urged, understandably, by a growing chorus—his successor, if chosen from within the IOC, could prove to be just as bad. Or worse. Even Pound, whose reputation for integrity long has distinguished him from many other senior IOC members and who is Samaranch's most likely successor, has been tainted by recent events

Marc Hodler, the 80-year-old Swiss member whose public diatribe in December against corruption jump-started the IOC investigation, says, "No revolution has been possible without scandal. We have a great opportunity at this time. Let us make changes." The operative word is revolution. Mere changes aren't enough.

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