IOC approves key structural reforms

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The Independent Online

It took only a few hours to change what's been in place for more than 100 years.

It took only a few hours to change what's been in place for more than 100 years.

The International Olympic Committee adopted the biggest structural reforms in its history on Saturday, marking a major step in the organization's bid to restore its credibility after its worst corruption scandal.

The IOC approved new rules on age limits, terms of office and election and re-election procedures on the first day of a two-day assembly designed to bring a close to the year-old crisis triggered by the Salt Lake City bribery affair.

In a further move to give the organization a younger and more representative image, the delegates agreed to the appointment of 15 active athletes as full IOC members. Ten of the athletes are expected to take their seats Sunday.

The reforms passed with remarkable unanimity as the 93 delegates displayed allegiance to president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who had put his leadership on the line by asking members to give up some of their perks and privileges.

While the measures were far from revolutionary, they still represented a step into the modern era for an organization which has remained largely unchanged since its inception 105 years ago.

"On the surface, there has not been a single day lireform panel. "There has never been a set of institutional changes like this before."

The reforms were prompted by the bribery scandal that erupted a year ago surrounding Salt Lake City's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games. Ten IOC members were expelled or forced to resign for accepting cash, lavish gifts, free travel, scholarships or other inducements.

More than 30 of the total 50 reform proposals were enacted Saturday. The most contentious issue - whether to prohibit members from visting cities bidding for the games - will be debated Sunday.

Whatever happens, either a complete ban or tight restrictions on visits, the session appeared on track to adopt the entire reform package.

"I felt a little cautious about getting all the reforms passed," IOC vice president Kevan Gosper said. "But we got through the most difficult issues today. There's been some quite radical decisions and now I think the bulk of the package will go through."

On the eve of the vote, rank-and-file members looked set to revolt against the key reforms.

"The atmosphere was not good last night," Italian member Mario Pescante said. "The old guard was resisting. The risk was very serious. But the president and his friends lobbied very well during the night. At the moment, whatever the president wants is being voted unanimously."

Such was the case when -without a single objection - the delegates voted to give up their lifetime terms and approve the introduction of an eight-year term of office. After eight years, the members can seek re-election by their peers.

The assembly also approved a new election procedure whereby a special committee - including outside members - will screen candidates.

The lowering of the age limit from 80 to 70 - which will apply to new members only - provoked the most debate but still passed with only eight votes against. Existing members can still serve until the age of 80.

The delegates also approved the introduction of a 12-year term limit for IOC presidents - one eight-year term and the possibility of a second term of four years.

Under the changes, the future IOC will have a maximum of 115 members -15 athletes, 15 presidents of international federations, 15 presidents of national Olympic committees or continental associations, and 70 individual members.

Samaranch is intent on getting all the reforms approved before he travels to Washington to testify at a Congressional hearing Wednesday. Congress has threatened to strip the IOC of its tax-exempt status if the organization fails to enact significant changes.

"We gave him a vote of confidence of 86-2 nine months ago," Israeli member Alex Gilady said. "That means we must follow the route that he and the IOC 2000 (reform commission) believe we should go. Otherwise, we would make a mockery of ourselves."

Said Gosper: "Some members don't like the medicine but you take it because (Samaranch) is the leader with a proven track record."

Officials cited the appointment of athletes to the IOC as a way of revitalizing the organization.

A first group of 10 athletes will likely be formally installed on Sunday - including Ukrainian pole vaulter Sergei Bubka, former U.S. volleyball star Robert Ctvrtlik and Norwegian speed skating great Johann Olav Koss.

"It's long overdue," Ctvrtlik said. "We have a ton of things to add. We're not figureheads in the organization. We need to be represented. The IOC doesn't own the games. The people own the games."

Despite the approval of the reforms, observers say it will take some time before the new IOC actually takes shape.

"This is an organization that has been around for a century and intends to be around for another century," MacAloon said. "If the reform process takes two or three years to kick in, that's a short time in Olympic time. It will take a few years to see how the deep the reforms really are."

Will they satisfy the critics in Washington next week?

"It's hard to predict how it will play in the United States," MacAloon said. "These are substantial and important reforms. I hope Congress can look at them with an outside point of view and not a Washington point of view."

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