Winter Olympics: Olympics only winning medals for hypocrisy

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SO FAR as one could tell, the stalls belonging to the six bidders for the 2006 Winter Olympics contained no jewellery, gold watches, deeds of covenant, or samurai swords. But they might as well have done, such was the reaction of the International Olympic Committee members who streamed past them between sessions at February's World Conference on Doping.

Many things remained confused after that much-heralded gathering in Lausanne. (When is a two-year ban for doping abuse not a two-year ban for doping abuse? In exceptional circumstances, of course. What is the point of the IOC investing one and a half million pounds in developing a means of detecting illegal manipulation of human growth hormone, only to balk at funding the necessary checking procedure in time for the 2000 Olympics? No point, of course.) But one thing came across clear as the air over Lake Leman - a prevailing climate of caution.

No IOC member with half an atom of sense - which perhaps accounted for a working majority - was about to risk compromising themselves in the wake of the revelations of bribery surrounding Salt Lake City's securing of the 2002 Winter Games, revelations which have since led to the impromptu departure of 10 representatives from the world's most exclusive sporting club.

And as the remaining IOC membership - 98 and holding - gathers in session at the Hotel Shilla in Seoul ahead of today's awarding of the 2006 Winter Games, the emphasis is on being seen to do the right thing. Or at least, not being seen to be doing the wrong thing.

Britain's IOC member, Craig Reedie, spelt out last week the necessity for the Olympic movement to clean up its own backyard.

"The selection process needs to be fair, transparent and done properly," he said. And who would disagree with that? But, in my experience, a curious phenomenon occurs within IOC circles whereby what appears to be the sensible, even the obvious course of action, becomes mysteriously complex and difficult to bring about.

It is like swimming for a distant point at sea. What seems close remains stubbornly distant, and an enveloping sense of exhaustion occurs.

I thought I had given up trying to make sense of the IOC six years ago when the Guardian's John Rodda, hugely experienced in the arcane ways of the movement, and well regarded enough within Olympic circles to have co-written the memoirs of the former IOC president Lord Killanin, went for Peking rather than Sydney on the eve of the vote for the 2000 Olympics. If he called it wrong, given all the groundwork he did, what chance was there for anyone? Like a fool, I tried again. But the vacillation and fancy footwork following Marc Hodler's whistle-blowing activities early this year have left me bemused once again.

The decision taken at the beginning of this week to severely censure, rather than expel, the Australian IOC member Phil Coles was a case in point.

Coles, like a number of his recently dismissed colleagues, was found to have been implicated in the Salt Lake City votes-for-cash scandal. Other claims, including allegations from his former wife that they acquired jewellery worth $6,000 from a businessman connected to Athens's unsuccessful bid for the Games of 1996, were not followed up.

Coles has been obliged to resign from the Sydney 2000 Olympics organisation, but allowed to remain in the IOC, prompting a very obvious question. Are the two organisations operating on completely different codes of ethics? Francois Carrard, the IOC director general, responded that by resigning from the Sydney organisation, Coles had "contributed to ease some of the tension for the Sydney Games." So that's all right then.

But for doublespeak, Kevan Gosper, Australia's IOC executive board member, has to stand at the top of the rostrum. Or at least in the silver medal position alongside his esteemed leader.

Among the revelations in the wake of Hodler's initial allegations was the admission of John Coates, president of the Australian Olympic Committee and leader of the 2000 Sydney bid, that he had offered two African IOC members pounds 44,000 worth of inducement each at dinner in Monte Carlo on the eve of the 1993 vote. Sydney subsequently earned a narrow victory over Peking.

By two votes, as it turned out.

So what was Gosper's take on this? "It seems," Gosper said, "that John's decision was intended to influence the IOC members' thinking. The perception may not match John's intention, the event having taken place the night before the vote." What else, you wonder, might John's intention have been on that balmy night in Monaco? Oh no. I'm swimming, swimming so hard towards that place where things make sense. But it's getting further away, not closer. And my arms, oh my arms are becoming so tired...