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Tuesday, January 26, 1999 Published at 04:46 GMT

Olympic Spirit: Shiftier, Sleazier, Dodgier?

It used to be so easy to know what was right and what was wrong - it was the wrong things that got you a clip round the ear.

But in the post-modern world, where many people decide to make their own minds up what is right and wrong instead of just what they were told as children, things are not so clear.

Yet the Olympic ideals, with the pseudo-religious creeds and symbols (eg the inextinguishable torch), were self-consciously presented as the height of human aspiration.

Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) is the organisation's motto. Mutual understanding, a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play - that's the definition of the Olympic Spirit from the movement's charter.

[ image: IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch is under pressure]
IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch is under pressure
That's all taken a bit of a knock now, with the games for cash scandal which has caught up with the International Olympic Committee.

Some IOC members received support for their children, one made thousands in a land deal while also accepting thousands of pounds for aid for his home country, others had donations to their political campaigns. Some appeared to have received straight cash.

Some former Olympic competitors have said this is just the tip of the iceberg, and has been going on for years. The IOC's inquiry has recommended that host cities of previous games should be invited to come forward if they have information about officials who may have sought improper benefits. The size of the rest of the iceberg, if there is one, may soon become clear.

Baton charge

The Independent's cartoonist Dave Brown was just one of many who summed up the situation by picturing two fatcats passing a wad of dollars as if it were a baton, under a flag with the legend: "Shiftier, sleazier, dodgier".

In the context of shady payments, bungs, allegations of bribes and favours, the words "mutual understanding" and "spirit of friendship" can take on more sinister connotations.

The mayor of Nagano, the host of the last winter games, has admitted there may have been "excesses" in the city's bidding, but in a bizarre twist said all the paperwork will have been destroyed, as is standard Japanese practice.

And all the talk of corruption is to say nothing of the other cloud obscuring the Olympian ideals - that of drug taking.

As one correspondent to Talking Point asked: "What would the ancient Greeks say?"

The naked competitors at the games which ran for 11 centuries (incidentally all were men - women were not even allowed to watch) may well have a few thoughts.

Long history of corruption

But they were no strangers to conspiracy. The historian Pausanius reported that a competitor from Crete called Sotades won the long race in the 99th festival. However, at the next games, he was bribed by the Ephesians to claim he was from their city instead. His fellow Cretans banished him.

The modern Olympic Creed warns competitors that it is not the winning that is important, but the taking part. "The essential thing is not have to have conquered but to have fought well," it reads. Perhaps cities bidding for future games should take this to heart.

And in calling for the resignations of the six members, Mr Samaranch said the IOC would do "whatever is necessary to protect the integrity and ideals of the Olympic Games - and to restore the people's faith in the Olympic Movement".

In other words, Faster, Higher and Stronger could be joined by "Must try harder, too" .

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