Samaranch escapes the bloodletting

Click to follow
THE CANADIAN vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, Dick Pound, described it as a "very harrowing day". Some 90 of the 100 unblemished members of the IOC gathered yesterday in the Palais de Beaulieau in Lausanne, self-proclaimed "Capital Olympique" to vote for the first time in the Olympic movement's 106-year history to expel members for corruption.

The "crimes" of the six IOC members were involvement in accepting bribes and gifts worth $1.2m (pounds 750,000) in the Salt Lake City bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The meeting opened dramatically when the Olympic president, Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, put his leadership to the test in a secret confidence vote.

He said it was important "to take the necessary steps to be certain this very sad episode in the history of the International Olympic Movement never happens again."

He won the vote 88-2 and announced the setting up of an ethics committee to examine the way the Olympic movement will award the Games in future.

Each of the gathered members had read the reports into the Salt Lake City bribery allegations compiled by Mr Pound's commission. In alphabetical order the six accused came up on to the stage and were allowed to make a 20-minute presentation arguing their innocence. After each a secret ballot was held. One by one, all six members recommended for expulsion by Mr Pound's commission were kicked out.

Jean-Claude Ganga of the Congo, who has said the charges against him are a plot against Africans, received the least support: two members voted against his expulsion. Samoa's Paul Wallwork, backed by 19 members, received the most support, but it was not enough to save him. Two-thirds of the assembly needed to vote in favour of expulsion and all six went. The six, now former members, left the building immediately, avoiding the media, and several went straight to the airport.

A member of the IOC assembly, Alex Gilady, said: "The mood of the meeting was tense but responsible and I think the right thing was done." He also said he felt that Mr Saramanch's position as president was secure after such a resounding vote in his favour.

After the meeting Mr Pound said: "It was a most extraordinary session, with extraordinary emotions."

Nine other members have received written warnings of varying severity. One case remains open. A South Korean, Kim Un Yong, until recently the heir apparent of Mr Samaranch, has received a "severe warning" but Mr Pound said yesterday that one allegation against Mr Kim remained to be resolved.

He has been accused of soliciting benefits for two of his children and a Russian teenager from the Salt Lake City bidding committee. Mr Pound's commission is waiting for Mr Kim's lawyers to provide evidence that the South Korean says will exonerate him. If that is not forthcoming he may still be expelled.

Mr Kim was involved in an incident at the pre-assembly meeting on Tuesday. A former South Korean CIA officer, he shouted abuse and adopted a taekwondo [martial-arts] stance at the IOC director-general Francois Carrard, a member of Mr Pound's inquiry team. Yesterday Mr Carrard said it had been "a minor incident that is now closed".

Whether the wholesale reforms offered by the IOC will save the Olympic movement is not yet clear. In the United States a number of separate investigations are under way into the Salt Lake City bid. They have built an unstoppable momentum and may lead to criminal prosecutions. Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate commerce committee, said that "the demand for Congress to act will be irrepressible unless the IOC adopted major reforms". More important will be the response of the dozen or so big corporate sponsors of the Olympics such as Kodak, McDonald's and Samsung. The survival of Messrs Samaranch and Kim, at least for the moment, may not reassure them sufficiently to continue to pour millions of dollars into what many see as the shop-soiled Games.