Marc Hodler

Olympics whistle-blower


Marc Hodler, sports administrator: born Berne, Switzerland 26 October 1918; president, International Ski Federation 1951-98; member, International Olympic Committee 1963-2006, vice-president 1993-97; married (two sons); died Berne 18 October 2006.

If there were Olympic gold medals for integrity and dignity, then Marc Hodler, former head of the International Ski Federation, would be more than deserving of one.

The International Olympic Committee, of which Hodler was a member from 1963, owes him an immense debt of gratitude. For in 1998 he did what no other member during the reign of Juan Antonio Samaranch as IOC President dared to do, and broke the code of silence of the world's most exclusive sports club to speak out about the organisation's widespread corruption and so uncover one of the greatest sporting scandals.

"He'd reached breaking point," one Olympic insider remembered. "He was very anti-corruption, from an era when sports officials had genuine statesman-like qualities, and he didn't like the direction that the IOC was going. So he just happened to mention a few things to the press one afternoon in Lausanne."

Hodler's series of impromptu press briefings had a seismic effect on international sport. Nearly 10 per cent of the IOC membership was purged, either through ejection or resignation, when they were shown to have taken excessive gifts and inducements.

It was a December day, after routine meetings, in the marble lobby of the IOC's headquarters when Hodler, encircled by reporters, held court. "To my knowledge, there has always, always, been a certain part of the vote given to corruption," he said. At one point, he took over a podium reserved for a sponsorship news conference, while Samaranch and other officials watched in stunned silence.

Hodler stated that the voting for the Games in Atlanta, Sydney, Nagano and Salt Lake City had been corrupted by vote-buying, and that there were four "agents" who offered to deliver blocks of votes in the ballots to select the cities to stage the Games, with winning cities being charged up to $5m. At least one such agent was an IOC member, he said. On other occasions, committee members had been offered an array of lavish gifts, prostitutes, jobs, university courses for their children, and one was even given a prestigious concert tour for his piano-playing daughter.

That such allegations came from a figure as senior as Hodler meant that they could not be shrugged off. He was an IOC vice-president, served four terms on its rule-making executive, chaired its finance committee and, because of his pre-eminence within skiing, he had chaired the evaluation committees of the candidate venues for four Winter Games, including the bidding for 2002, which was won notoriously by Salt Lake City.

There was a backlash. Samaranch ordered Hodler not to talk to the press. When asked by journalists if he had been silenced, Hodler made a motion across his lips like a zip and said, "Exactly. I have been muzzled. Apparently I said too much." But the IOC was changed forever. Samaranch stood down after the Sydney Games in 2000, and a 50-point reform package was implemented, with serious restrictions on members' activities.

Marc Hodler was born in 1918 in Berne, where he studied law and joined the firm of his father, Armin. He was the first city dweller to make Switzerland's national alpine ski team, which had previously been dominated by skiers from mountainous areas. Hodler joined the team as a teenager, but had a serious accident while training for the 1938 world championships that effectively ended his career. He never competed in an Olympics.

Instead, he turned to coaching, leading the Swiss team from 1939 to 1948. As a lawyer, Hodler was responsible for drawing up the rules for the 1948 Winter Games, which were held in St Moritz. Three years later, he was named president of the sport's governing body, the International Ski Federation. He stayed in that role for 47 years.

Hodler was three times winner of the Swiss national championship for bridge. According to one friend, Hodler was most awed on the occasion that he met Omar Sharif. "But it wasn't because he had just met this great Hollywood movie star," the friend recalled, "but because he had met one of the world's top bridge players."

Steven Downes

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