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banner Friday, 25 August, 2000, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
The great Olympic illusion

Correspondent examines the sleaze behind the Olympics' idealised image
This programme was broadcast on Saturday Aug 29th at 18:50 (BST)

On the eve of the Sydney Olympics, this week's edition examines the corruption scandal that engulfed the International Olympic Committee in late 1998. The programme is presented by Andrew Jennings, author of three books investigating the organisation. Here he writes about the background to the film - and looks at the IOC's claims to have reformed itself.

The story made front pages all over the world. Could it be possible that members of the Olympic Committee, custodian of Olympic idealism, had taken bribes in return for awarding the winter games of 2002 to Salt Lake City?

It was, and the evidence poured out of Utah in media and official reports. The scandal erupted when a confidential document revealing that the bidding team had spent more than US$100,000 on a college scholarship for the daughter of a senior IOC member was leaked to a local TV station.

Within days, more evidence emerged that scholarships, cash bribes, gifts and vacations worth around a million dollars had been solicited - and accepted.

I wasn't surprised; I have been revealing impropriety at the Committee for the best part of a decade. Their response to my first book of disclosures, published in 1992, was to prosecute me in the local court of their home town, Lausanne, Switzerland, for criminal libel.

The court preferred to accept the claims by the Committee that there had never been any evidence of wrongdoing by members. And, despite pictures of the IOC leader Juan Antonio Samaranch in the uniform of the Spanish fascist movement, the court also accepted his word that he had never been a politician serving the Franco dictatorship, only a high-ranking civil servant.

In my latest book I include new pictures of Samaranch in fascist garb and in the film we show rare footage of Samaranch with General Franco. At the IOC's request, the Lausanne court found me guilty and imposed a five-day jail sentence, suspended for three years. I went on to win a number of awards around the world for my Olympic reporting.

Franklin Servan-Schreiber faces the uphill task of improving the image of the IOC and its members
The corruption story focussed media attention on the little-known hundred or so members of the committee. The world discovered that new members were co-opted, not elected, and included a strange mix of people from European royals to refugees from discredited dictatorships, to representatives of sponsors and television companies doing business with the Olympics.

One linking factor was that most had been hand-picked by president Samaranch.

Their immense power in world sport was based on nothing more than their ownership of the Olympics - and the five rings much sought after by sponsors. Further evidence, also featured in the film, emerged that the IOC had been given many warnings over the years of bad behaviour by members on official visiting cities seeking to host the Games.

President Samaranch states on camera, "Never there were evidence - never there were facts, never - when we had the facts on the table - we act very quickly."

The film discloses a secret report made to the IOC in 1991 by the city of Toronto. They lost to Atlanta in the contest to stage the Games of 1996. Their report details dubious activities by 26 members, some of whom accepted pairs of first class air tickets to visit the city - and then cashed them in. This report was buried by the IOC.

Mark Tewkesbury tried to represent athletes' interests
When the Utah scandal broke the IOC promised to reform itself. Canadian swimmer Mark Tewkesbury, who won gold in Barcelona in 1992, was sceptical and set up an athletes' organisation to make suggestions to the Committee on how they could move to a democratic, accountable, structure.

Says Tewkesbury, " I think they think they have a crisis of image - andthey have spent a lot of money to try to repair that image." Mark and his fellow athletes were ignored and the Committee spent several million dollars hiring a New York public relations firm to restore their image.

The film's German director, Albert Knechtel, has shot intimate "fly on the wall" film inside the IOC, showing how they responded to the crisis. Despite claims by Samaranch that they have "cleaned house" and instituted 50 reforms, the reality is that only ten members have departed, Samaranch remains President, his executive board are still in place and so are nearly 90 per cent of the members.

Dr. Jacques Rogge, the IOC's 'Mr. Clean', is one of the favourites to succeed Pres. Samaranch
New members will still be selected by the existing membership. The film notes that a number of members who have escaped censure have backgrounds that hardly seem to match the Committee's claims that all its members are upright citizens whose major concern in life is the well-being of athletes.

Among the contributors to the film is America's 'Drug Czar', General Barry McCaffrey. Among his tasks, as a member of President Clinton's cabinet, is combating drugs in sport. During 1999 McCaffrey fought - and won - a long battle to make the IOC open up its new organisation, the World Anti-Doping Agency, to outside bodies, including governments.

McCaffrey is particularly angry at the IOC's long record of complacency about the menace of drugs -and allegations that positive tests at the Olympics have been covered up. "Enough is enough", he says, "We want this thing cleaned up."

The programme also reports allegations that a leading member of the Russian mafia has moved into Olympic boxing, already under threat because of result fixing at the Games.

President Samaranch retires next year but the scandals are unlikely to go away. The indictment last month by the US Justice Department of two of the Salt Lake City bid leaders may lead to high profile trials around the time of the next Games - in Utah in 2002.

Reporter: Andrew Jennings

Director: Albert Knechtel

Editor: Fiona Murch

Click here for transcripts

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