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The last crooked Olympics

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In the excitement over the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, it’s easy to forget that Salt Lake City didn’t play fair in the bidding process. While they stopped short of dropping sacks full of greenbacks into the laps of corrupt International Olympic Committee officials, huge amounts of money did change hands.

There were dirty real estate deals. College scholarships, jobs and medical treatments – including plastic surgery – for relatives of IOC members. There were interest-free loans and chunks of cash. There were, allegedly, prostitutes. There were free trips to the Super Bowl, Disneyland, Vegas and other destinations.

When the full extent of the graft was revealed following the investigation that began in December of 1998, it was discovered that over a million dollars U.S. was spent securing the games since the bid was launched back in 1991. Six members of the IOC were expelled and four resigned. Ten more were reprimanded. Dozens of others were implicated for various apparently forgiveable or unprovable misdeeds. And virtually every single member of the IOC received something, whether it was luxury accommodation or tickets to the theater, from bid officials.

Two of the top Salt Lake City bid officials, including president Frank Joklik, senior vice president Dave Johnson, were forced to resign and may face criminal charges, along with former bid president Tom Welch.

The further back that investigators peeled the lid off this particular can of sardines, the more things stunk.

The scandal sucked in other bid cities as people stepped forward to share their stories, including Atlanta, Nagano and Sydney. Nagano even burned their books to put an end to the speculation that payola won the day, but not before it was revealed that the bid committee spent $22,000 on each visiting bid member, and may have paid $100,000 each to influential IOC members.

It would take years to unravel all of the little perks that were given to IOC officials over the years, but here are some of the more painful examples:

• Jean-Claude Ganga, the IOC member representing the Congo Republic, received over $70,000 U.S. in direct payments, free medical care for himself and his mother, and was given a deal on three luxury homes in the mountains for $25,000 U.S. each, which he sold three years later for a $60,000 U.S. profit.

• The son of IOC member Bashir Mohamed Attarabulsi of Libya received tuition to Brigham Young and a community college, plus $700 a month for expenses.

• The Salt Lake Olympic Committee donated $10,000 to Chilean IOC representative Sergio Santander to finance his run for mayor of Santiago.

• Mohamed Zerguini, the IOC delegate from Algeria, was reprimanded because he and his family made several trips to Salt Lake City, skiing and jet-skiing at the expense of the bid committee.

While the worst offenders were expelled, there’s little doubt that virtually every IOC member has taken advantage of the generosity of bid cities over the years. While they should be impartial, they have been wined and dined, put up at luxury hotels, and entertained at the expense of the bidders.

Since the allegations came to light after Salt Lake City won the Games, that city was allowed to keep the Olympics.

To put an end to bribery, Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the IOC at the time, decreed that IOC members would no longer be allowed to visit bid cities prior to voting. The structure of the IOC is also changing as a result of the scandal and will eventually have one third representation from the traditional IOC body, one third from international sports federations, and one third from athletes. In the future decisions on who wins the bid will be made entirely in the interest of sport. Or so we should hope.

The IOC still plays favourites, but in a different way. No longer corrupted by greed, the IOC has since been corrupted by idealism.

The IOC awarded the 2008 Olympics to China believing that the Games will have a positive influence in that country, and because the Games had never been there before.

Other bid cities could have saved tens of millions of dollars if the IOC members were asked up front where they thought the Olympics should go. Instead they were made to jump through hoops when all along the Games were going to China.

Bribing IOC members was a crooked game, but so is playing the emotional angle.

Jack Poole, the chair of the Vancouver Olympic Bid Corporation said he believes we have a good chance of winning the 2010 Olympic Winter Games because there wasn’t a China-type contender on the list if bid cities.

I disagree. If I were on the IOC and I wanted to convince the world that I was clean, that I wasn’t corrupted or motivated by money and power, I’d probably vote for war-torn Sarejevo.

— Andrew Mitchell

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