Saturday, January 16, 1999

Look! The Emperor has no clothes…

I have observed the recent Olympic scandal with a mixture of amusement and concern.

Amusement, because I have never put too much credence in the Olympic Movement; mixing a monopoly on sports and lots of money under the name of "Movement" has always sounded suspicious too me. Somehow, I couldn't not see the Olympics as white as the flag that flies over the Games. What has amazed me the most was that people were even shocked at the "scandal". I see in that either too much naïveté or hard-core hypocrisy.

One of the reasons for my concern might be found in the fact that I was born a few miles across the lake and Lausanne, where the International Olympic (IOC) Headquarters are established in Switzerland. For years, I have observed with particular interest the rise to power of the new Pope of Sports, His Excellency the Marquis Juan-Antonio Samaranch, operating out of his Château de Vidy on the shores of Lake Geneva After being Spain's Secretary of Sports under Franco, and then President of the Catalogna Region until 1975 when the dictator died, Samaranch's ascension into the pinnacle of sports has been rather remarkable. From the time he became the IOC president in 1980, he was able to assure his re-elections with absolute predictability by "working" his constituency, the international Olympic Delegates.

As we have heard from the press, many of the 100-plus IOC Delegates are not beyond reproach. In fact, in a great number of countries they rose to their positions through "excellent relations" with local dictators or from the Party high spheres in former communist nations. Some of the Delegates' tainted origins perfectly set the stage for making their votes a commodity available for purchase. In my opinion, this sad state of affairs has been going on for a long time, and is something that must have been known and condoned by the IOC.

Samaranch skillfully worked these same Delegates to achieve and maintain his Imperial-like status over a twenty-year span. Do I need to add that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely"? What is rather interesting, and has not been discussed in the recent "scandal", is that the IOC is awash with money. By its own admission, it takes "less than 7%" of the sponsorship contributions related to any Olympic Games.

Figure it out: Based on Salt Lake's $1.45 billion budget, the IOC should receive $100 million. With one Olympic every two years and a price tag of $2 billion for the summer events, an average yearly income of $60 millions flows into the Château de Vidy. Those of our elected official who visited the place some 18 months ago will have to agree that after paying the staff and the operating costs, a heap of money has to be left over at the IOC headquarters… Of course, I am not counting the millions of dollars "donated" by Nagano for the Olympic museum in Switzerland and the countless rivulets of "freebies" that must be pouring into the IOC headquarters...

This is a lot of money circulating into what should be a non-for-profit organization. No wonder why Mr. Samaranch clings to his job with such a fervor! That is indeed far too much money if one considers that the "movement" offers very little accountability -- if at all -- to the world at large. No wonder then that a portion of its cash is used to harass people all over the world, including our own Wasatch Brewery, for alleged Olympic trademarks violations!

Now, I smile when the same Samaranch deplores the excessive commercialization of the Atlanta Games. This Holier-than-thou attitude will be much harder to sell in the future, when the good people of Utah have realized that Messrs. Joklik and Johnson were indeed the sacrificial lambs of this sad Olympic episode. In my view, they had very little reason to go; like all candidate cities, they played by the IOC "rules" and did what they had to do to secure the votes.

Unfortunately for them, a story-hungry press opened the can of worms and SLOC got hosed. The obvious problem I see in the current crisis is that Mr. Samaranch has failed to take any responsibility for his corrupt system. When the dust settles over this story, he is the one who should step down; not Joklik and Johnson. Unlike what was recently suggested by Mr. Marc Holder, Salt Lake City should remain the Olympic choice for 2002. The final selection was appropriate, our venues are fine. The only condition should be that the IOC steps up to the plate if we fail to attract all the money needed to run the games. Hopefully, there should be some dollars left in the IOC's coffers!

For the future, I simply hope that the U.S. and all the other responsible National Olympic Committees will start questioning this whole IOC concept, from its absolute power all the way to its secrecy, and start a deep-clean process. With so much money and influence at stake, they should, among other things, look at re-casting the IOC within a supra-national organization like the United Nations or some of its agencies, for greater accountability, sound democratic rule and full transparency.