Olympic Games: IOC stands by Salt Lake City

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The Independent Online
THE International Olympic Committee confirmed yesterday that the 2002 Winter Games would remain with Salt Lake City despite allegations of bribery and corruption levelled at some of the organisers.

Officials in the American city have admitted paying for the housing, travel and education of relatives of IOC members as well as giving expensive gifts and free health care. Yesterday the IOC spokeswoman Michele Verdier said: "The IOC has made it clear the Games will not be withdrawn from Salt Lake City."

She added that a suggestion by Switzerland's veteran IOC member Marc Hodler that the city might lose the Games because of a $350m (pounds 216m) shortfall resulting from the scandal were made in a personal capacity and she denied there were financial problems.

Hodler, 80, started the furore when he said last month that agents offered candidates blocs of votes for millions of dollars. Following his comments and reports of inducements allegedly offered to some of the IOC members involved in the selection, the president of the Salt Lake City Organising Committeeand his deputy resigned.

The president in question, Tom Welch, has admitted he had a pounds 330,000 fund to finance offerings to Olympic officials worldwide. Welch was forced to stand down in August 1997, after being charged with financial abuse. He admitted giving pounds 33,000 to Jean-Claude Ganga, an IOC member from the Republic of Congo, who said he needed money to help his homeland's children fight civil strife. But Welch claimed: "We never bribed anybody. We never bought a vote."

The IOC has launched its own internal investigation on the corruption charges, and Verdier said the results of these would be released after an executive board meeting on 24 or 25 January. The IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, speaking in Warsaw, promised to punish any IOC members implicated in the scandal. "We are going to act very fast," he is reported to have told members of Poland's Olympic Committee. "If it turns out the behaviour of some IOC members was reprehensible they will have to bear the consequences."

There have been claims that up to 12 members of the IOC may be forced to resign once the investigations are complete. But a leading member of the Sydney 2000 Games organising committee has called on Samaranch to ignore calls for his own resignation. Samaranch has come under fire from the former New South Wales Olympics minister Bruce Baird.

But Australian IOC member Phil Coles, who yesterday resigned from his consultancy role with the hotel group due to house Olympic officials in Sydney, said: "He won't resign, and we don't want him to. I've been saying all along... if there's a half-dozen corrupt politicians the prime minister doesn't resign."

Baird warned Samaranch "the buck always stops with someone" but says Sydney bid officials never went as far as to provide and pay for prostitutes for IOC members, as Salt Lake City bid organisers allegedly did.

Meanwhile, Rene Paquet, the former head of the Quebec City bid committee which lost out to Salt Lake City, says the Canadian city may sue the IOC because the rules on the bid contract were broken.

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