IOC Promises Reforms

The bar at the Palace Hotel in Lausanne breathes old money, of the sort expected in a sedate but five-star Swiss lodging where the price of a room starts at $400 a night and spirals upward. The walls are red velvet, the ceiling wood-panelled, the seats dark leather.

This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on March 29, 1999

IOC Promises Reforms

The bar at the Palace Hotel in Lausanne breathes old money, of the sort expected in a sedate but five-star Swiss lodging where the price of a room starts at $400 a night and spirals upward. The walls are red velvet, the ceiling wood-panelled, the seats dark leather. It is the kind of place that is comforting to the European Establishment, people like Prince Albert, heir to the throne of Monaco, who on this particular evening is leaning casually on the mahogany bar sipping poire. The prince is in a relaxed mood, as is just about everyone else in the bar, none more than the Canadian tax lawyer sitting nearby, puffing contentedly on a cigar. For Richard Pound, like the prince and most of the rest of the regular clientele, are members of a special ruling class, the one that governs Olympic sport. And after two days of critical meetings in this lakeside city beneath the Alps, they are infused with an almost palpable sense of relief, even accomplishment. "Are we out of the woods?" asks Pound sometime later. "Not yet. But I do think we've finally turned the corner."

While admitting the International Olympic Committee still has some distance to travel, leaders of the organization contend they took a giant step towards regaining a measure of public trust last week. In two harrowing days of often emotional discussions, 90 IOC delegates from around the globe gathered behind closed doors in a cavernous Lausanne convention centre to hammer out a series of reforms designed to deal with the scandals that have besmirched the once pristine reputation of the Olympic movement's supreme governing body. They censured nine of their own fellows and fired outright another six for corruption, bringing to 10 the total number of members who have been unceremoniously dumped from the IOC as a result of the sleaze surrounding the awarding of the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City, Utah.

At the same time, they created an interim structure to avoid a repeat of what happened in previous host competitions, where cities vying to stage each Games bought delegates' votes with hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, gifts and other favours. Looking further ahead, they set in motion a process to bring in outside voices to recommend radical, top-to-bottom reform of the IOC's entire creaking edifice. And finally, they embarked on a program that, if all goes well, will soon result in the appointment of a quasi-permanent standing committee on ethics, a watchdog composed mainly of independent authorities with, Pound hopes, impeccable credentials who will police the IOC members' sometimes loose interpretation of moral conventions.

As the session in Lausanne drew to a close last week, the embattled president of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch, could barely contain his satisfaction. The 78-year-old Spaniard, buoyed no doubt by the IOC members' overwhelming 86 to 2 vote of confidence in his leadership, appeared rejuvenated as he sat before an assembled crowd of 700 international journalists to declare that the worst scandal in the Olympic movement's 105-year history was now in the past. "We were asked to clean the house - we did it," he proclaimed. "We were asked to reform our structures. We did it. We were asked to take measures to see that nothing like this will ever happen again. That, too, has been done. Now, it is time to move on. The world needs the Olympic Games."

Samaranch's claim that the worst was over left many observers scratching their heads. There remains widespread skepticism about the overall effectiveness of the reforms announced in Lausanne, even among Samaranch's own colleagues. "What we did was a start," remarked Marc Hodler, the Swiss delegate who helped fuel the current crisis by publicly revealing last December that members' votes were for sale in the Salt Lake City award. "Ask me one year from now," Hodler continued, "and I'll tell you if it's been successful."

Both of Canada's representatives on the IOC were cautiously optimistic. Toronto's Carol Anne Letheren, the Canadian Olympic Association boss who has been touched by a whiff of scandal herself in her city's bid for the 1996 Summer Games, claimed that "a whack of work" had been accomplished in Lausanne. "There's been recognizable progress on reform," she said as she waited at Geneva airport for a flight back to North America. Domestically, her immediate concern was to satisfy sponsors that the scandal is now behind them. "At the very least," Letheren said, "we now have something that we can sell to the folks back home." Pound, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, chose to characterize the outcome of the meetings as merely "the end of the beginning" rather than achieving substantial progress.

But many others within the Olympic movement suggested that while some members paid dearly for their indiscretions, others went unpunished. "Justice was not done here today," said Franco Carraro, an Italian IOC member, after the six culprits were expelled. "Only the weakest were picked on." And a group of retired Canadian athletes, including silver-medal speed skater Susan Auch, gold-medal swimmer Mark Tewksbury and racewalker Ann Peel, staged a news conference in Lausanne the day before the IOC meetings began to announce the formation of Olympic Advocates Together Honourably, or OATH. Members said the IOC's efforts to clean house did not go far enough, and called for more dramatic reforms and greater transparency. "The closed nature of the IOC and its lack of accountability have undermined the Olympic spirit," said Peel.

Pound, a former Olympic swimmer who is not renowned for his tact, brusquely dismissed OATH's attempt to attract attention to athletes' concerns as "a belly flop," and questioned the motivation of the group's corporate sponsor, auto parts giant Magna International Inc., whose boss, Frank Stronach, is branching into the world of sports. But many of the athletes' arguments were echoed by Kevin Wamsley, director of the international centre for Olympic studies at the University of Western Ontario in London. Wamsley said the IOC has "done the minimum necessary to placate their sponsors." Those sponsors remain wary. Ian MacDonald, marketing director for the Dairy Farmers of Canada, which supports the COA, says last week's initiatives "do not remove our concerns yet," and added: "They're going in the right direction, but I don't think we've heard the end of it."

The Olympic scandal broke last November when a Salt Lake City TV station received a document showing that its local Olympic committee was making a final payment to the daughter of René Essomba, the IOC member from Cameroon, for her university expenses. Samaranch named Pound, a Montreal lawyer, McGill University's chancellor and one of the IOC's four vice-presidents, to head the ad-hoc committee that investigated the scandal, and it was Pound's subsequent report, tabled at the Palais de Beaulieu convention centre in Lausanne, that led to the six expulsions and nine censure motions.

If the investigation has been a strain, Pound betrayed few signs of it during the hectic round of Lausanne meetings or shortly after, when he took a moment to chat at the IOC's new glass and white marble headquarters on the shores of Lac Léman right beside the Château de Vidy, Samaranch's elegant mansion that now serves as his executive offices. Pound said that with the investigation and the expulsions, the IOC had completed two of three stages in overcoming the scandal. "Now, what we have to do is implement the third stage, the reforms," he added. "If we can get that done by the time the Summer Games start in Sydney in 2000, then maybe we can get public attention back to where it belongs, on the athletes."

Pound says he never wants to repeat the process that unfolded when the six accused IOC members were separately summoned to appear before 90 of their colleagues in the great hall at the Palais de Beaulieu. "It was a very harrowing day," he said. All six were accused of accepting cash, gifts and favours from Salt Lake organizers bidding to win their votes. Each was given 20 minutes to defend himself against the charges detailed in Pound's report. By all accounts, their presentations were dignified, with, according to IOC senior vice-president Pal Schmitt of Hungary, "no finger pointing or shouting." Once the defences were complete, a vote was taken by secret ballot in alphabetical order. Expulsion required a minimum vote of two-thirds of the members present.

The process took 6½ hours to complete. But when it was all over, none of the six had managed to win the required 30 favourable votes. Paul Wallwork of Western Samoa garnered the most, with 19 votes against expulsion. Jean-Claude Ganga of the Republic of Congo earned the least, with only two delegates voting in his favour. The rest - Agust'n Arroyo of Ecuador, Zein El Abdin A. Gadir of Sudan, Lamine Keita of Mali and Sergio Santander Fantini of Chile - ranged somewhere in between. It fell to Schmitt, a former Olympic fencing champion, to deliver the verdict to the waiting members. "All of them were very sad and upset," he said. "Mr. Wallwork was crying."

The expulsions for corruption are the first in the IOC's history. Four members had resigned earlier rather than face action by their peers. More resignations may be coming as a result of several ongoing investigations, not only by the IOC itself but also by jurisdictions in Canada, the United States, Australia, Japan, Russia and Britain. And there have not yet been serious examinations into the bid processes that won other recent Games - Atlanta in 1996, for instance, and Athens in 2004. "Stay tuned," Pound glumly remarked as he conceded the possibility of further action against the IOC membership. "If new facts surface, we have no option but to deal with them."

Most at risk is Kim Un Yong of South Korea, a member of the IOC's executive board who was once considered to be one of Samaranch's possible successors. Kim was one of the nine delegates to be censured in Lausanne, and he may yet fall if evidence surfaces that he was aware that the Salt Lake Organizing Committee arranged jobs for his children. Kim's daughter, Kim Hae-Jung, a concert pianist of reputedly modest ability, was hired as a guest artist with the Utah Symphony - she was given $7,500 to appear, and SLOC bought more than $5,000 worth of tickets to watch her perform. Her brother John Kim, received a job with Keystone Communications, a Salt Lake telecommunications company. The job was organized by SLOC, which also paid his salary of more than $100,000. Ex-SLOC president Tom Welch and David Simmons, the former head of Keystone, both insist that Kim Un Yong knew about his son's arrangement, but Kim has denied any knowledge about it.

Kim snapped last week in a confrontation with both Pound and IOC director general François Carrard. According to an eyewitness who requested anonymity, Kim, who is president of the International Taekwondo Federation, "really lost it" on the terrace at IOC headquarters beside the Château de Vidy. After exchanging heated words with Carrard, Kim assumed a martial arts stance, which prompted the IOC director general to run from the terrace shouting, "I quit!" When Pound intervened, Kim turned menacingly on him, but then backed off. When questioned about the affair, both Pound and Carrard dismissed it as "minor." "There was a brief incident," Pound acknowledged, "but that is now all behind us."

If he goes, Kim promises he will not go quietly. Before he got to Lausanne, he warned it would be "too risky" for his opponents to expel him. "When the time comes, I will fight back," he said. "I have a lot of ammunition." Professing innocence, he suggested he is instead the victim of efforts by some IOC members - namely Pound - to oust him.

In an effort to avoid a repeat performance of the Salt Lake City scandal, the IOC's members agreed to limit their involvement in the bid process for the 2006 Winter Games. Delegates will no longer travel the globe to visit bidding cities, and the bid committees will not be allowed to contact IOC members directly. The 2006 site will be decided after a 16-member "electoral college" winnows competing proposals down to two finalists, which will then be put to a vote of the full membership at a meeting in Seoul on June 19.

Future bids will be arranged under whatever system is recommended by a body the organization has dubbed the IOC 2000 Committee. This is envisaged as a 20- to 24-member group, composed equally of IOC members and leading personalities from the business world, government, academia and sport. Their task is to recommend sweeping changes in the IOC's structure, everything from the way members are chosen to the bid-selection process. Samaranch hinted that potential non-IOC members could include people such as Fiat head Giovanni Agnelli, former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former European Commission chief Jacques Delors. Officials say they hope the committee will be appointed by the June meeting in Seoul and be in a position to propose reforms by the end of the year.

Far closer to fruition is the establishment of the IOC's proposed new ethics watchdog. It is expected to be a seven-member organization, made up of three IOC delegates and four independent experts with the kind of credentials that put their integrity above suspicion. All would be appointed to four-year terms and operate with their own budget. While no names have been released, IOC sources indicated that a shortlist of the four outsiders has already been prepared. The same sources suggested that Samaranch may be in a position to unveil his ethical guardians within days, perhaps a week or two.

The fact that Samaranch intends to preside over the restructuring process has critics wondering if, in fact, the IOC is really serious about reform. "I still think they're living in fantasyland if they think they can sweep this under the carpet," says Peter Donnelly, director of the centre for sport policy studies at the University of Toronto. There may be a better chance for change when Samaranch steps down, but Donnelly wonders if Pound, so often touted as the front-runner, is the man for the job. "Perhaps he will turn out to be a true reformer," Donnelly says. "But the only way he will ascend to that position is if he stays inside and keeps his nose clean, by not blowing the whistle, by doing the minimum."

In a move that may be aimed at anticipating the coming watchdogs, the IOC last week also embarked upon a new policy of fiscal transparency, disclosing full details of its finances for the first time since 1993. The figures offered a glimpse, among other items, of a hefty bank balance of more than $300 million. They also revealed exactly how much it costs the the organization to pay for Samaranch's permanent suite at the IOC's unofficial headquarters and favourite watering hole in Lausanne, the Palace Hotel. Last year, Samaranch's hotel bill amounted to $306,000. For the regulars at the bar downstairs, a tab like that may well be a sobering thought.

Maclean's March 29, 1999