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2000-09-14

Preview of Tomorrow’s Program: The Olympic Committee–Behind the Rings

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Tomorrow the world’s attention will turn to Sydney, Australia, where the Olympic Ceremonies will begin. It won’t be soon enough for the International Olympic Committee. The institution that for years has promoted itself as the 'United Nations of Sports' is embroiled in an increasing number of controversial incidents as the games near. [includes rush transcript]

IOC’s president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, is credited with transforming the Olympic Committee from a bankrupt institution into a multi-billion dollar commercial venture. But with the IOC’s meteoric rise have also come continuing charges of rampant corruption and influence peddling.

The past week’s storms center on revelations that IOC president Samaranch lobbied the Indonesian government to let government detained committee member Mohamad "Bob" Hasan, attend the Sydney Olympics. Hasan, an associate and financial adviser of the former dictator Suharo, is about to face trial in Indonesia on charges of embezzling $87 million from the government. And the White House released a report last criticizing the IOC’s anti-doping policies for failing to do enough to combat the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs in the Olympics.

But the biggest thorn in the side of the IOC is the continuing fallout over the biggest bribery scandal in Olympic history. During Salt Lake City’s bid for the 2002 Games, IOC members received more than $1 million in cash and other inducements. Ten accused committee members have been expelled or resigned in the last two years. Influence peddling of committee members has been charged in the awarding of the Olympics to other cities as well.

The IOC currently has 113 members, all serving without pay. Their services however can hardly be considered voluntary with the endless perks of free trips to far flung locations and the now well documented 'gifts upon arrival'. The International Olympic Committee already conceded that $800,000 in cash payments, scholarships, medical care and travel expenses was paid to 14 IOC members.

In the wake of all the scandals, the IOC recently adopted 50 reforms including plans to revise its internal structure and rules for conduct of members. However despite this reform plan, the IOC will still operate in secret when it undertakes two of its most important decisions next July: picking a new president and picking the site of the 2008 games.

Have the Olympic ideals been irretrievably compromised? How can the IOC govern when they completely contradict the spirit of what the Olympics is all about?

Guest:

  • Alan Abrahamson, a journalist with the Los Angeles Times who did a year long investigation of the IOC culminating in a seven part series titled "Behind the Rings. Inside the Olympic Movement." He is currently in Sydney for the Olympics.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up today, we’re going to look at tomorrow. That’s right, the Sydney Olympics are going to be opening. The Olympics in Australia, the opening ceremony is on Friday. It won’t be soon enough for the International Olympic Committee. The institution that for years has promoted itself as the "United Nations of Sports," has been embroiled in controversy, taking almost daily hits to its reputation in the last couple weeks.

The IOC’s president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, is credited with transforming the Olympic Committee from a bankrupt institution to a multibillion-dollar commercial venture, but with the IOC’s meteoric rise have also come continuing charges of rampant corruption, influence peddling.

The past week’s storms center on revelations that IOC President Samaranch lobbied the Indonesian government to let government-detained committee member Mohamad "Bob" Hasan attend the Sydney Olympics. Hasan, an associate and financial advisor of the former dictator Suharto, is about to face trial in Indonesia on charges of embezzling $87 million from the government.

And the White House released a report criticizing the IOC’s anti-doping policies for failing to do enough to combat the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs in the Olympics.

But the biggest thorn in the side of the IOC is the continuing fallout over the biggest bribery scandal in Olympic history. During Salt Lake City’s bid for the 2002 games, IOC members received more than $1 million in cash and other inducements. Ten accused Committee members have been expelled or resigned in the last two years. Influence peddling of Committee members has been charged in the awarding of the Olympics to other cities, as well.

We go now to Sydney, Australia, to Alan Abrahamson, a journalist with the Los Angeles Times, who’s done a yearlong investigation of the IOC, culminating in a seven-part series titled, "Behind the Rings, Inside the Olympic Movement." We’re going to talk more with him tomorrow, just as the ceremonies finish up, but just a brief look at what the IOC’s biggest problem is today, Alan Abrahamson, speaking to us in Sydney.

ALAN ABRAHAMSON: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

ALAN ABRAHAMSON: Thank you. Pleasure to be with you. The IOC’s problems — always interesting to listen to a litany like that, like the one you just read. I have a story in today’s paper that says a lot of those things. I think the IOC’s problem basically right now is that there needs to be a culture change. They need to understand that the best way to put the scandal behind them and to move forward is to be open and accountable, the way they have promised they want to be, and yet they have a very, very hard time doing just that.

AMY GOODMAN: In terms of Salt Lake City to Sydney, what has changed?

ALAN ABRAHAMSON: In terms of Salt Lake City to Sydney — from the time Salt Lake — from the time the scandal broke, is that what you’re asking?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

ALAN ABRAHAMSON: Oh, goodness! Well, not just the numbers. The IOC expelled six people, and four others resigned, and then they enacted a fifty-point reform plan last December. The changes are significant, and yet they still have so much more, so far to go.

They have promised, for instance, as I said that they were going to be open, which they call transparent. To their credit, they now televise meetings of their general sessions on closed-circuit TV to accredited members of the press. On the other hand, they stashed us three blocks away, making real access impossible. They have said they will be accountable, and yet they did not publish any of their financial accounts. We asked when those accounts would be presented to us so we could show them to the members of the public who have invested morally and financially in the Olympic movement. The answer is, "Well, we will publish them, we just don’t know when."

There are elements within the IOC that truly understand, and I mean sincerely understand, that these things need to be done, and yet they’re not getting done.

AMY GOODMAN: Alan Abrahamson, we’re going to speak with you more in depth tomorrow; certainly a seven-part series, "Behind the Rings: Inside the Olympic Movement" deserves that, and a very important analysis and investigation it is. Alan Abrahamson, Los Angeles Times reporter, speaking to us from Sydney. Also, tomorrow, you probably have seen the photograph: the 1968 Olympics, Mexico City, two African American athletes, winners at the awards ceremony as the national anthem being played, black-gloved fists in the air. We’ll speak with Tommy Smith, one of those athletes, as the Olympics opens again, this time in Sydney.

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