Olympic Games: Atlanta reveals gifts given to IOC members

THE SCANDAL over the lengths cities go to in the hope of becoming an Olympic host took another turn yesterday when the organisers of the 1996 Atlanta Games released a report containing a list of gifts the organisers gave to members of the International Olympic Committee who chose the games venue.

The requests were many and varied, including a bulldog costing $875 (pounds 550) and a bus, but the revelations served only to whet the appetite of the House Commerce sub-committee who requested the report as part of an inquiry stemming from the scandal over Salt Lake City's generosity to IOC members and their families in acquiring the right to host the Winter Olympics in 2002.

While many of the inducements appeared to violate International Olympic Committee rules that limit gifts to $200, Atlanta organisers said they were not in the same league as the $1.2m give-away in Salt Lake City that led to the biggest scandal in Olympic history. Excess gifts and questionable donations provided by Atlanta totalled less than $94,000.

Nevertheless, Rep Fred Upton, chairman of the inquiry panel, said investigators would be arriving in Atlanta today. "This is not a witch hunt," he said. "Hopefully Atlanta will wind up pretty clean."

That depends on what he means by "clean". The list, the first detailed look at Atlanta's campaign finances, indicated potential rules violations involving IOC members already expelled or censured in various Salt Lake City investigations. Billy Payne, who headed the Atlanta Olympic organisation, said the report "established ... that we've acted with integrity and honesty."

The report, released by the Georgia Amateur Athletic Foundation, outlines how most of the $7m raised for the 1996 bid was spent, including an accounting of travel, receptions and gifts for IOC members.

It shows the biggest beneficiary was the Republic of Congo. At the request of Jean-Claude Ganga, one of six IOC members expelled after the Salt Lake scandal, the African country received more than $30,000 in sports equipment and infrastructure in 1990 from Atlanta bidders and their associates.

Atlanta bidders also exceeded the IOC's $200 limit on individual gifts 38 times for a total of over $15,000. Four gifts exceeded $500, including the bulldog and a carburettor kit costing $948. Another donation included a $25,000 gift to the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee, which was seeking to get South Africa back into the Olympics. The Atlanta group sent a bus costing $10,310 to a children's program in Lima. It was reimbursed for the vehicle.

Other gifts included a set of surgical instruments costing $318 for Cameroon's Rene Essomba; $457.24 for a Steuben crystal yacht; $540.58 for clothing and $397.08 for a sweater for Finland's Pirjo Haeggman, who has since resigned from the IOC; and six cases of members having friends' and relatives' trips to and around the US paid for.

Billy Payne explained: "It was just Southern hospitality. It wasn't like we were going to turn them away."

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