IOC meets to vote on reforms

When the International Olympic Committee executive board met last December in Lausanne, the organization was thrown into turmoil by the biggest corruption scandal in its 105-year history.

When the International Olympic Committee executive board met last December in Lausanne, the organization was thrown into turmoil by the biggest corruption scandal in its 105-year history.

A year later, the IOC opens meetings Wednesday with the focus on enacting a package of scandal-driven reforms and bringing the crisis to a symbolic close.

"The crisis ends when we adopt the reforms," IOC vice president Dick Pound said in an interview. "It's all over but the shooting. We've just got to close the circle."

IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch is urging committee members to put aside individual interests and approve the reforms for a greater cause.

"The crisis that we have experienced this year has been far more serious than we could have imagined," he said in a letter to all members, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. "To begin the new millennium in the best conditions, the IOC must reform and adapt its structures.

"The whole world is watching us, and expecting resolute action from us which will show that we know how to place the common good above the preservation of particular prerogatives. While we are masters of our own organization, we cannot ignore world-wide opinion."

The 50 proposed reforms will be reviewed by the executive board during its three-day meeting before being submitted to the full IOC for approval Saturday and Sunday.

The meetings will conclude a year to the day after senior IOC executive board member Marc Hodler made allegations of systematic corruption in the host city bidding and selection process.

Hodler's allegations came shortly after the disclosure of improprieties in Salt Lake City's successful bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

Investigations showed that Salt Lake bidders showered more than dlrs 1.2 million in cash, scholarships, gifts, travel, medical care and other inducements on IOC members and their families.

The scandal prompted the expulsion of six IOC members and the resignation of four others, led to the resignations of Salt Lake's top two Olympic officials, and resulted in criminal charges against two people so far.

The IOC has taken a series of steps in a bid to repair its image and credibility. It set up an ethics commission, became more open and transparent, offered to be governed by an international anti-bribery treaty and used a special commission - with Henry Kissinger among its members - to draw up a series of wide-ranging reforms.

The reforms are intended to make the IOC younger, more modern, more democratic, more representative and less susceptible to corruption.

The proposals include:

The inclusion of 15 active athletes on an IOC that will have a maximum of 115 members. Athletes will be represented on the executive board.

An age limit of 70 (current members will still be covered by the 80 limit).

A screening and nomination process for IOC members.

Renewable, eightyear terms for members.

A term limit for IOC presidents (either one eightterm, or with the possibility of a second term of four or eight years)

National Olympic committees to be wholly responsible for Olympic bids.

Introduction of bid acceptance procedure, requiring prospective candidate cities to meet minimum standards.

Member visits to bid cities either prohibited or restricted, pending permission of executive board, to trips organized and paid for by IOC.

Top IOC officials say the crisis provided the impetus for the IOC to modernize itself.

"It has given us an opportunity to accomplish in the course of one year what would have taken decades," Pound said.

Approval of the reforms is considered a vital test by the IOC's critics in the United States.

The White House deems it "absolutely critical" for the IOC to enact the reforms, said Mickey Ibarra, an assistant to President Clinton for intergovernmental affairs.

On Dec. 15, Samaranch is to appear in Washington before the House subcommittee on oversight and investigations to explain the reforms. Congressional leaders have threatened to cut off American corporate and television support for the IOC if lasting reforms aren't adopted.

In a sign of change, Salt Lake and Sydney organizers will stay at home this week and make their progress reports to the executive board by video conference rather than travel to Lausanne as customary.

The IOC headquarters, meanwhile, will be closed to reporters during the excecutive board meeting. The decision, officially due to a shortage of space, ensures there will be no repeat of last year's scenes when Hodler made his bribery allegations in a series of impromptu news conferences in the IOC's marble lobby.