Olympics to be reformed in response to bribes scandal

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A NEW WAY of selecting cities to host the Olympics can be expected soon in response to the widening bribery scandal, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, said last night.

"After this scandal, I believe that the IOC as a whole must accept that the system needs to change," Mr Samaranch said.

The IOC has been shaken by accusations of corruption and vote-buying. Organisers for Salt Lake City, the host for the 2002 Winter Games, admit having a $400,000 (pounds 240,000) scholarship fund for IOC members' families, and there is growing evidence of other favours for IOC members, including free medical care and gifts in excess of the IOC-imposed limit. Many of the accusations focus on IOC members from Africa, particularly those from the Congo, Libya and Swaziland.

Mr Samaranch's comments came at the end of a weekend that saw two fresh investigations launched into the Salt Lake bribery allegations. The city's organising committee has appointed an ethics panel, and the United States Attorney- General, Janet Reno, has ordered the FBI to start preliminary investigations. The IOC earlier launched its own inquiry into vote-buying.

At the centre of the allegations for Salt Lake and other cities is the role of vote-broker agents. One, Mahmoud El-Farnawani, said last week that he "assured" the IOC's Arab vote for Salt Lake City in return for $58,000.

Marc Holder, IOC member for Switzerland, has estimated that 5 to 7 per cent of the 115 members are open to bribery. Senior Olympic officials also had doubts that some members' behaviour was at the "limit".

"We are going to react in a strong way and clean up," Mr Samaranch said, adding thatIOC members found guilty of corruption will be thrown out of the organisation.

Mr Samaranch said the Olympics should follow the example of other major sports bodies, which leave significant decisions to their executive committees rather than to the full membership. He told Le Matin newspaper that he had proposed this several times. "But it's not easy to ask members to agree to cut off their own heads," he said.

It was possible, he said, that the IOC members would give the 11-member executive committee special powers.

Mr Samaranch said the investigation into actions by Salt Lake City should be completed by 23 January and would be discussed at a meeting that day.

He indicated that the new selection procedure might be in place by next summer, when the choice is made for the host of the 2006 Winter Olympics. If successful, the same system would be used for the 2008 Games, he said.

The Swiss city of Sion, beaten by Salt Lake City for 2002, is widely considered the front-runner for the 2006 Games.