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Sunday, September 17, 2000
An image problem

Analysis: The IOC talks a good game, but the taint remains

By MATTHEW FISHER -- Toronto Sun

  SYDNEY -- The Olympic movement's motto these days should be bigger, greedier and more doped up than ever.

 Those words will find their echo this week with the world's best athletes in Sydney to offer a theatrical extravaganza of elite sports competition and a fridge full of dubious blood and urine samples.

 The International Olympic Committee, which owns the rights to this quadrennial, considers itself a success because it makes what Australians would call "heaps of money." But it has been going through a very rough spell.

 Decades after allegations of corruption were first murmured, half a dozen IOC members have been bounced for being crooked. Four others, accused like the other six of stuffing their pockets with millions of dollars of inducements -- including cash, travel, medical care and free university tuition for their kids in exchange for supporting Olympic bids -- have quit.

 One of the highest-living, arrogant and intransigent IOC members has died.

 And the other members of this privileged Swiss club of pampered lords and ladies, would-be lords and ladies and dodgy Third World dandies may never get out from under a dark cloud of suspicion.

 After dithering unconscionably as world opinion turned against it, the IOC finally responded to revelations of naked bribery and the cheating by adding a few, allegedly purer athletes to its membership mix. The selection process for cities seeking the Olympics, which got the IOC into all this trouble as evidence of chicanery in Nagano, Atlanta, Sydney and especially Salt Lake City came out, is being run by more transparent rules, too.

 There are to be no private visits by IOC members with votes to sell. There is even to be an Ethics Commission to try to make sure that IOC members and their wives, who also have a fondness for the good life, behave.

 Best of all, perhaps, IOC members are no longer going to be living gods. Like cardinals and Canadian senators, they are to have term limits. New members must retire when they reach 70 years of age, although the IOC members have chosen to allow existing members to continue until the age of 80. Like U.S. presidents, the IOC president is to be limited two terms in office. Henceforth it will not be possible for an IOC president to serve more than 12 years.

 However, given the IOC's secretive past and the fact that most of its biggest players have stubbornly refused to leave the playing field, questions linger.

 Can the IOC really operate within the new limits it has imposed upon itself? After all, can a Rolls-Royce ever find happiness pretending to be a Volkswagen?

 Some things have not changed. The Olympic Games spin billions of dollars so the IOC still stinks of blatant commercialism and big money.

 Most CEOs of corporations that have had the dreadful press the IOC has had, would have had the brains or good grace to resign.

 But not Juan Antonio Samaranch. The imperious Spanish octogenarian's cronies have decided that the club's new rules do not apply to a gent who expects to be feted like a head of state wherever he goes.

 So Samaranch, whose long watch has involved a run of spectacular financial successes and colossal moral failures, the inclusion of more and more marginal sports such as women's water polo and synchronized diving to run the bill up, and a gutless unwillingness to tackle the ever-growing issues of drugs and blood-doping and growth-hormone use in elite sport, is to be allowed another year of pious pontificating before honouring his reluctant promise to quit.

 Not that Samaranch and his IOC sidekicks are likely to catch much flak in Sydney. The focus of the media and the public will be on the 28 -- yes, it is now 28! -- sports of the Summer Games rather than the old men and women who decide where these multibillion-dollar pageants should be held

 There will be scandals, to be sure. Some will concern IOC attempts to stop the Internet from video-streaming pirated, live images of events that TV networks have paid the IOC fortunes for. Others will involve transport schmozzles that may make spectators and journalists wish they were back sitting in a traffic jam at the much-criticized Atlanta Games rather than waiting for one of Sydney's notoriously unreliable commuter trains.

 Also to be expected is that busloads of athletes will either mysteriously withdraw from events at the last moment or scream their innocence after being caught taking performance-enhancing agents. That this will happen is a near certainty because, at long last, and much more because of public pressure rather than because it is right, the IOC finally seems to be getting serious about stopping the use of arcane new doping agents.

 The IOC will mostly be in the shadows because it does not have to make controversial decisions in Sydney, such as whether Beijing or Toronto should host the 2008 Summer Games or Vancouver/Whistler should get the 2010 Winter Games, although a lot of not-so-subtle lobbying will take place.

 Mostly, the IOC members will be free this month to enjoy the best seats at every event and to plot Samaranch's succession. They'll also find time to enjoy -- and probably not for the last time -- a fantastic swirl of grand hotels and parties sponsored by corporations, countries and cities who still hope to win the IOC's goodwill with lavish hospitality and tokens of affection.
 Sport by Sport
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Nestor's golden win hits home
Harrison starts in Britain
Bulgarian coach resigns
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Bridesmaid Brunet
Brit wins women's modern pentathlon
Simon's our man
Dream Team hangs on for another gold
Hungary destroys Russia in title game
Barsukova wins rhythmic gold in an upset
Wind dashes Millar's medal hopes
Yugoslavia beats Russia for gold
Despatie arrives early
Netherlands retains Olympic title
Bosshart wins bronze in taekwondo
Ironic performance wins bronze
Clarke retires after finishing 17th