Sport: No place like a permanent Olympic home

Click to follow
The Independent Online
It is a great comfort to anyone keen to heap derision upon the wretches who have turned free-loading into an Olympic event to know that we can pile the insults high and be safe in the warmth of full justification and, for those of us who have long hinted that dirty work was afoot, sweet vindication as well. Some members of the International Olympic Committee are so deeply in disgrace that no brickbat is too wounding and no substance too noxious to hurl in their direction.

As the IOC's executive board meet in Lausanne this weekend to hear the full extent of the bribery and corruption that preceded the awarding of the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City, it is likely that an even more caustic tune can be played on the old opprobrium. After Dick Pound, the IOC vice-president and Montreal lawyer who has led the investigation into the allegations, makes his report, it is predicted that at least 14 members will be seriously implicated in addition to the two who had resigned by Friday.

Pound has already apologised to the world at large for the conduct of some of his colleagues which he calls "an affront" to the Olympic ideal and his findings may lead to further delvings into suspected shady dealings, among them the granting of the 1996 Winter Games to Nagano and next year's Games at Sydney. The gravest allegation involves agents selling the votes of IOC members in exchange for millions of dollars in bribes.

Whether the scandal is explosive enough to remove the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, from his seat as the world's most powerful sporting leader depends on how he views the extent of his responsibility. He is not one of these presidents who can be easily impeached and, since there is no superior sporting authority this side of the pearly gates, he will stay if he so desires. This would not be a bad move if the wily old supremo uses the situation to create an Olympic movement that has more regard for its duties to the sporting world than it has for its own pocket.

He must realise that even those IOC officials who aren't guilty of being influenced by the enticements offered by the competing cities enjoy a life of which Riley would be envious. They are cosseted and flattered in a manner that is profoundly demeaning to the spirit of sport and the only way to end this appalling abuse of privilege is to settle on a permanent Olympic site at which the IOC can concentrate what talents they have on creating the Mecca of world sport.

No other solution will offer the movement a future cleansed of the stains of these revelations and protect them from the suspicions that will inevitably accompany any further choice of venues. They will never again be trusted. The only mitigating factor is that what has been going on is but an extension of what has long been part of the sporting culture; indeed, of life.

When it comes to the savouring of sweeteners, the IOC are not alone in their appetite. The enthusiasm of administrators of many descriptions to give and receive gifts paid for by the organisations involved has been a dishonourable aspect for many years. I've travelled with enough football and rugby international teams to know that the expensive presents received form an essential part of what they consider to be their entitlement. Those plus free travel, the best hotels and the finest restaurants are numbered among the expected perks. It is not a scenario confined to sport. What goes on when companies are pitching for contracts in the business world, for instance, would tend to reduce the numbers entitled to be horrified at the IOC's antics.

Neither can the Press be absolved from blame in this direction. We may be mere nibblers at the droppings from the cornucopia but largesse does come our way. The media, however, are not very sophisticated in their anticipation and are so overcome by gifts like pens, T-shirts, baseball hats and the like that we would have sold Manhattan for even fewer beads than did the Red Indians.

Although I have never been an enthusiastic supporter of the Olympics, I found myself involved in the campaign to win them for Athens in 2004. For many years I had supported the concept of a permanent Games site in Greece where the Olympic ideal was born. Ancient Olympia is three hours' drive from Athens and an appropriate place for a purpose-built arena and complex for athletes and spectators. It already houses an international Olympic academy and has all the potential to become the living hub of the sporting world.

In 1997, the Athens committee invited me to inspect the site and to accompany their delegation to Lausanne for the selection of the 2004 host city in which Athens were competing against Cape Town, Rome, Stockholm and Buenos Aires. I can only guess what skulduggery was going on behind the scenes; what was visible was hideous enough. On the one hand were the IOC people, who had toured each city in untold luxury and who now walked with the arrogance of power, and on the other were the candidates' representatives, including Nelson Mandela, Luciano Pavarotti and President Menem, forced by the event to conduct a master class in fawning to people who weren't fit to lick their boots.

Thanks to a brilliant presentation, led by a remarkable young woman called Gianna Angelopoulos, Athens won by a large majority in what was described as one of the fairest votes ever conducted by the IOC. It obviously didn't have much to beat and, as I wrote at the time, now that the Games were going back home they should stay there for ever. Given the horrors being unveiled this weekend, that wish should become a command.

When Bobby Williams, the FC Maesteg centre-half, hooked the ball into his own net in a match against Pencoed last weekend he didn't bother to apologise to his team-mates. After all, they're used to it and might even have been aware that a landmark had been reached; it was the 25th consecutive season in which he has scored at least one own goal.

Own goals are no laughing matter - I once scored one from 30 yards and still wince at the thought - but Bobby has learned to smile at his penchant for inadvertent scoring. Now in his mid-40s, he has accepted that the risk is part of his game which, according to club secretary Alan Coles, involves lunging so enthusiastically into the thick of the action that his feet sometimes get confused.

And his own goals are not boring, run-of-the-mill efforts. They can often be spectacular. "Last week's came after three attempts and was a classic," said Coles. "The goalkeeper was on the floor, the ball was spinning around the six- yard box and Bobby had three goes at clearing it before hooking into the goal. No one else could have done it." Fortunately, Williams, who once played in the Welsh League with Caerau, compensates for the gaffes that can occur two or three times a season by scoring regularly at the other end. "Although he is short for a centre-half, he is terrific in the air and scores some great headers. But he never heads into his own net. It is on the ground he sometimes gets into trouble but he is still an asset to the team." Williams can content himself that there can't be another defender in Britain who has elevated the own goal to silver jubilee status.