IOC completes reforms with ban on visits to bid cities

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The Independent Online

The International Olympic Committee today voted to ban member visits to bid cities, a practice which was at the root of its worst corruption scandal.

The International Olympic Committee today voted to ban member visits to bid cities, a practice which was at the root of its worst corruption scandal.

In a major victory for IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, the general assembly approved a blanket ban on visits to complete a sweeping reform package designed to help restore the organization's image and credibility.

Despite complaints by several members that a ban implies they cannot be trusted, the delegates fell into line with Samaranch and agreed to give up their most controversial privilege - traveling around the world to inspect cities bidding to host the games.

The vote capped a two-day session in which delegates approved all of the proposed 50 reforms, marking a historic restructuring of the 105-year-old organization. It came a year to the day after the IOC was plunged into worst crisis by allegations of Olympic corruption.

"What we did today marks a historic page in our long history," Samaranch said. "We promised to the world to change, and we are delivering this change. The new millennium will see a new International Olympic Committee."

"The problem we faced at the beginning of the year - today we will say this problem is solved," he declared, flashing a big smile as he brought down the gavel to close the session.

The proposal on visits was the most contentious issue of the two-day assembly and provoked impassioned interventions on both sides.

Two proposals were on the table: a recommendation that visits are "not necessary" and another calling for tightly regulated visits organized and paid for by the IOC.

After nearly 2 1/2 hours of debate, Samaranch asked the 100 delegates: "Those in favor of visits, raise their hands."

Only 10 did so. There was one abstention.

"The proposal is approved," Samaranch said.

Just before the vote, Samaranch addressed members' concerns that the ban on visits suggested they were open to bribes by bidding cities.

"I would like to say very clearly, I admire the member of the IOC very much," he said. "I trust the members 100 percent."

The vote came a day after the IOC approved new rules on age limits, terms of office and election and re-election procedures.

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 were officially installed Sunday.

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.

Among the reforms approved:

- introduction of a renewable, eight-year term for IOC members.

- lowering of the age limit from 80 to 70, a rule which will apply to new members only. Existing members can still serve until the age of 80.

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

- 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.

Passage of the whole reform pacakge was deemed crucial by Samaranch 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.

Earlier Sunday, 10 athletes - all members of the IOC's athlete's commission - were elected by acclamation as full members.

They are: Ukrainian pole vaulter Sergei Bubka, Czech javelin champion Jan Zelezny, former U.S. volleyball star Robert Ctvrtlik, former Canadian runner Charmaine Crooks, Russian swimmer Alexander Popov, Norwegian speed skater Johann Olav Koss, Algerian 1,500-meter runner Hassiba Boulmerka, German rower Roland Baar, Italian cross-country skier Manuela di Centa and Kazak cross-country skier Vladimir Smirnov.

An additional five athletes will be selected at a later date.

Of the 10 athletes elected, seven from the summer Olympic sports will join until the end of next year's Sydney Games. The three winter sports representatives will remain on board until the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.

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