BOOK OF THE WEEK; Corruption is name of the Games

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The Independent Online
The New Lords Of The Rings

by Andrew Jennings

(Pocket Books, pounds 6.99)

Four years after co-authoring a book which stirred the more brackish waters of the international Olympic movement, the former World In Action reporter Andrew Jennings has brought out his own revised edition.

The "new" bit in the title, much to Jennings's chagrin, refers to his book rather than the lords themselves. They, he laments, still cling to their power, in the way that powerful men do.

The initial book made considerable waves when it came out before the 1992 Olympics, most notably with its detailing of the fascist past of Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee.

The latest version draws heavily upon documents compiled by a former East German Stasi agent, Karl Heinz Wehr, which implicate several officials in fixing results at the 1988 Olympic boxing tournament. "If Karl Heinz Wehr is to be believed," Jennings writes, "a Korean multi-millionaire captured the leadership of the international boxing federation, bought medals for his national team and enjoyed humiliating America into third place in the final medals table . . ."

Assuming that Wehr had no reason to lie to his employers, Jennings has unearthed a murky mass of detail which undermines the principles of fair play on which the Olympics are supposed to be founded.

The book also details the involvement of Samaranch's deputy, Kim Un Yong, in a corruption scandal in Washington in the 1970s, and names him as a senior member of the Korean CIA.

It is a deeply depressing history of corruption and collusion in high places, although its impact is diminished by the occasionally irresponsible tone it adopts, as awkward facts are thrown in alongside gratuitous insults and student-magazine rhetoric.

Perhaps the most disquieting area of the book as the latest Olympics loom is the collation of details about post-Olympic testing of anonymous samples from the last two Games, which indicated that as many as one in ten athletes had abused steroids.

Samaranch's assertion in October 1994 that Chinese sport was "very clean" is also put into telling context - within a matter of weeks, the number of Chinese athletes testing positive at the Asian Games went into double figures.

Deplorable as the apparent boxing rigging was, doping is the crucial area of concern for the Olympic movement and sport in general.

As a book, this is as much of a polemic as an investigation. But the IOC will not be rushing to act on its findings. The last effort from Jennings and his co-author Vyv Simpson earned them a suspended jail sentence in a court near the IOC headquarters in Lausanne.