Olympic Corruption: Shameful story of how the Games were won

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The Independent Online
THE SETTING could not be more suited to lofty ideals: a pristine- white headquarters set on a hilltop above Lake Geneva. But from these Olympian heights last night was delivered a report on the low farce that the selection of cities for the Olympic Games has become.

President Juan Antonio Samaranch, the man who had turned the Games into a multi-billion dollar enterprise, was now reaping the consequences. He railed against those IOC members who had abused their positions in order to extract gifts and cash from cities equally keen to benefit from the hogs' trough of money now generated by the greatest sporting show on earth. "The members in question breached their Olympic Oath and violated the faith placed in them by the Olympic Family," he said.

Evidence from the special commission set up to investigate the winning of the bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics by Salt Lake City uncovered venality on the part of individual IOC members which even the most hardened Olympic cynics could not have imagined.

A six-person IOC investigative panel concluded its report yesterday morning into the cash payments, scholarships and other favours tied to Salt Lake's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

The members were cited for accepting inducements - reportedly totalling close to $600,000 (pounds 365,000) in cash and benefits - from Salt Lake boosters. There were also reports of lavish gifts, free medical care and other improper exchanges between the members and the Salt Lake bidders.

One member, Jean-Claude Ganga from Congo, was shown to have received payments into a personal bank account of $70,010 from the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee (SLOC). In addition he and his family received $17,000 worth of medical expenses and a total of $115,000 in travel expenses. "Unusually generous gifts and entertainment" accounted for an additional $14,000. Mr Ganga's defence was that much of the money had later been passed on to the Olympic organisations in African countries.

But if this is extreme behaviour, it is equally true that the ultimate responsibility for the overall situation must lie with Mr Samaranch himself and his headlong drive since taking over in 1980 to make the games a highly commercial proposition. As individual sponsors and, crucially, television companies have been willing to pour millions of dollars into the spectacle since the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, so temptations have increased.

The commission's report acknowledges as much. "In a very short time, the Olympic Games have changed from being a potential financial burden on a host city to an opportunity to attract billions of dollars to the host country or community," it says. "With all this, unfortunately, comes increased opportunity on the part of candidates and deciders alike to be exposed to conduct which may be questionable." Sergio Santander Fantini, from Chile, was another who is judged to have taken full advantage of such opportunities. He received payments from the SLOC totalling pounds 20,050. His defence was that this was used for a political campaign, and he thought that it was a personal donation from the president of the bid committee.

Zein El Abdin Ahmed Abdel Gadir, from Sudan, received $25,000 in payments that benefited himself and his family, particularly his son who got $18,000 in just over a year. Lamine Keita, from Mali, received more than $97,000, including subsidies for his son's accommodation and living expenses, books, tuition and air fares while attending a local university.

Charles Nderitu Mukora, from Kenya, received direct payments of $34,650 which he claimed were for the development of sporting activities in his country. This idea was rejected by the commission.

Finally, of those suspended and recommended for expulsion from the IOC, Agustin Arroyo from Ecuador received four large payments totalling not less than $19,000. By engaging in such conduct, the report says, "Mr Arroyo has been unworthy of, and jeopardised the interests of, the IOC in a manner incompatible with the duties and obligations pertaining to his membership."

Given that since 1986 a limit of $150 per gift per member has been imposed, this does all seem to be an open-and-shut case. That ruling was itself brought in after the gift situation was thought to have previously got out of hand.

For Salt Lake City, the defence it offers was that this is what it had to do in order to win, having previously been frustrated in more conventional efforts to win the games since 1984. There is, then, some credence in the bleating of its officials that they were as much victims of the existing system as corrupters of the innocent IOC. The final straw for them must have come in 1991 when the city tried yet again, only to be beaten by Nagano for the right to stage last year's Winter Olympics.

Nagano had no existing facilities and indifferent snow, but it did have Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, one of the world's richest men. And it was he who brought together 19 of Japan's biggest companies to contribute $20m to the building of the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. Nagano won the final vote by just four members out of a total of 88.

Funnily enough, this was not mentioned last night, although the commission is now committed to investigating earlier bids as far back as 1990. As Mr Samaranch remains in charge, resolutely saying that he has never even considered resigning over the recent scandal, the question may yet be asked: Was the museum itself the biggest "gift for games" of them all?