Olympic Games: Samaranch boasts of IOC improvements

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The Independent Online
JUAN ANTONIO SAMARANCH, the president of the International Olympic Committee, told sceptical United States lawmakers in Washington yesterday that the IOC has become more open, accountable and responsive following widespread abuses in the selection of Atlanta and Salt Lake City to host Olympic Games.

"I think we've cleaned the house and a fundamental reform package has been adopted," Samaranch said in his first-ever appearance before an American congressional panel.

But the House Commerce Sub-committee on Oversight and Investigation greeted with open disbelief the 79-year-old Samaranch's declaration that the 50 reforms the IOC adopted last weekend in Switzerland will be implemented fully.

Representative Joe Barton reiterated his call for Samaranch to resign from the post he has held since 1980. "I would like for you to announce today that you will resign," Barton said. "It's time for some new blood and some new leadership. And this would be a great setting for you to be a true statesman of sport and announce that." Samaranch did not respond directly to Barton. Instead he retraced the IOC's actions during the year since the allegations of vote buying erupted over the selection of Salt Lake City to host the 2002 Winter Games.

Samaranch said many of the reforms approved by the IOC last weekend had already been implemented, including a ban on future visits by IOC members to cities competing to host the Games. And he said that the rest of the reforms would be implemented before the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, are over.

Representative Fred Upton, the chairman of the panel, said statements by IOC members following the meeting last weekend gave him little confidence that changes would be made. "The conduct by IOC members and the bidding cities did not spring up yesterday and it will not go away simply because there are new rules written on a piece of paper," he said.

Representative Henry Waxman warned Samaranch that the United States Congress would monitor the IOC's enforcement of the newly enacted reforms and take punitive action if necessary. He specifically cited legislation he has introduced that would bar American companies from financially supporting the games if the IOC does not change its practices.

Samaranch was accompanied by some important allies, including the former American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was a key member of the IOC 2000 panel that drafted the reforms.

The reforms include a ban on IOC member visits to bid cities, the addition of 15 active athletes to the IOC, and new rules on age limits and terms of office.

Earlier, Samaranch had reached an agreement with the White House's anti- drugs chief, Barry McCaffrey, to work together in the newly established anti-doping agency.

Samaranch met with McCaffrey for more than an hour before both men issued a joint statement detailing 12 points and 17 subjects on which they would be co-operating.

These included developing drugs detection techniques, more transparency in the procedures and the participation of an athlete, who would be elected by his or her fellow peers.

"We were very happy with this meeting," Samaranch said. "We need the help and support of the governments."