Salt Lake scandal tied to US Olympic programme

The Salt Lake City Olympic scandal might stem from a foreign exchange programme established by the US Olympic Committee in the 1980s, The Salt Lake Tribune reported today.

The Salt Lake City Olympic scandal might stem from a foreign exchange programme established by the US Olympic Committee in the 1980s, The Salt Lake Tribune reported today.

The programmes bought sports equipment and helped train athletes in developing nations.

USOC officials, the newspaper said, took financial liberties with the programme - wiring funds to foreign accounts, shopping with international guests on per diem expenses, reimbursing travel costs with cash and keeping sloppy records.

Former USOC Treasurer Howard Miller called the programmes a "slush fund." As far back as 1988, he accused USOC officers of "paying off IOC members" under the guise of travel reimbursements.

Miller's account is supported by an internal investigation by the USOC's legal firm, Hogan and Hartson. The investigation was initiated last December when it was discovered Salt Lake boosters had paid for IOC members' children to attend US colleges.

The report was made public in October, after congressional committees demanded USOC release it.

More than $1 million in aid was distributed from 1989 to 1995, and that's just what attorneys could document, the Tribune reported.

Current USOC officials would not comment on Hogan and Hartson's investigation.

The USOC programme was not unique. The Australian Olympic Committee spent $1.35 million to train athletes and coaches from 13 countries during Sydney's bid. The French, Germans and Russians also paid for influence under the pretense of sport welfare.

The USOC programme was meant to salvage the country's reputation, ravaged by the US boycott of the 1980 Summer Games and the USOC's refusal to reimburse foreign Olympic committees the millions they paid to house teams at the Olympic village at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

To salvage its image, the USOC set up a $4.2 million "Friendship Fund" to underwrite sports competitions between US and foreign competitors.

Miller was the USOC treasurer from 1984 to 1988. Near the end of his term, Miller accused then-president Robert Helmick and Alfredo La Mont, then director of the USOC international relations, of giving $80,000 in cash to IOC members in exchange for votes.

Helmick and La Mont both denied to investigators they were buying votes.

In 1989, the USOC renewed the assistance programme. It wasn't long before those funds were being used to help Atlanta and Salt Lake City bid for the games.

"All of us who got it started and those who allowed it to get that way, we are somewhat responsible," Helmick told the Tribune. "I'm disappointed that some people are not stepping up to the plate with all candor and saying what they knew."

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