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Thursday, September 14, 2000
Samaranch: 'Sydney is Ready'

By STEPHEN WILSON -- Associated Press

 SYDNEY -- Sydney is ready to put on a great show that won't be tarnished by the transport problems and tacky street look of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch said Thursday.

 At a news conference on the eve of his final games as International Olympic Committee leader, Samaranch also announced he was inviting Australian swimming icon Dawn Fraser to sit with him at Friday night's opening ceremony -- apparently ruling her out as the final torch-bearer.

 Under often hostile questioning, Samaranch also defended the IOC's anti-doping efforts and his intervention on behalf of Olympic officials accused of criminal activity.

 "Sydney is ready," Samaranch said. "The IOC is very much satisfied and confident that arrangements are in place for a very highly successful games. The enthusiasm of the people is outstanding. The weather should be fine."

 "Sydney is very different from Atlanta," he added. "The look of the games is fantastic, with banners and so on. But wait until Oct. 1 to know my impression of the games."

 Samaranch and the IOC were critical of the "look of the games" in Atlanta, where parts of the city were taken over by street vendors and out-of-control commercialism. Tight restrictions were placed on such activities in Sydney.

 Like Atlanta, Sydney has experienced problems with the Olympic transport system. Dozens of drivers quit the bus service, saying they were angry about working conditions and timetables.

 But Samaranch said he had been assured by Sydney Olympics Minister Michael Knight that "transport will not be a problem during the games."

 "Every games is the same," Samaranch said. "At the beginning we have transportation problems. Yes, they have problems. I think they are solving the problems."

 Meanwhile, Samaranch said his wife, Maria Theresa, was ill and would not travel to Sydney. He invited Fraser, who won four Olympic gold medals and four silver medals in swimming in the 1960s, to be his guest at Friday's ceremony.

 "She accepted," he said. "She will be the Olympic first lady."

 Fraser has been one of the most frequently mentioned candidates for the honor of lighting the Olympic flame, but that now appeared unlikely.

 The Salt Lake City bribery scandal boiled over again at IOC meetings this week, with Utah organizers warning the IOC to brace for the release of thousands of pages of documents related to the government investigation.

 Samaranch said the IOC would work with Salt Lake organizing committee president Mitt Romney to see if the documents can be screened for any false information ahead of their release.

 "To attack members of the IOC only with rumors not facts -- we cannot accept," he said.

 One member, Lambis Nikolaou of Greece, said the IOC should move its 2002 general assembly from Salt Lake to Lausanne, Switzerland. But Samaranch said, "The session of February 2002 will be in Salt Lake City."

 Samaranch, who steps down in July after 21 years as IOC president, was asked whether he would attend the Salt Lake Games.

 "If I am invited, yes," he said. "I am waiting for an invitation."

 Samaranch was asked about a report from a corruption watchdog group called Transparency International. At a news conference Wednesday in Berlin, Peter Eiger, chairman of the group, said, "On the eve of the Olympic Games, it is worth recording that some of the leaders of the bribe-scarred IOC are still running the show."

 Samaranch said he was unaware of the report and could not comment.

 "We are not very worried," he said. "We are used to read, to see rumors, and so on that are not true."

 Samaranch said a test for the banned drug EPO -- which boosts endurance by stimulating the production of red blood cells -- has been "successful as a deterrent" since it was introduced for out-of-competition controls before and during the Sydney Games.

 Critics say the test is ineffective because it detects the use of EPO going back only a few days, while another test -- bypassed by the IOC -- could trace the drug back as far as 28 days.

 "The most important thing for us is to make sure the first tests we do stand up to the barrage of legal challenges I expect will arise," said IOC vice president Dick Pound, head of the new World Anti-Doping Agency. "Science may improve over time so we can get a better reach back"

 Samaranch also faced several questions about Mohamad "Bob" Hasan, the IOC member from Indonesia who is under detention in Jakarta awaiting trial next week on corruption charges.

 Samaranch wrote to the Indonesian president earlier this year on behalf of Hasan. The Indonesian government criticized Samaranch this week for trying to get Hasan released to attend the Sydney Games.

 But Samaranch said the letter was "nothing related to inviting Hasan to attend the Olympic Games."

 There were also questions about Gafur Rakhimov, an international boxing official from Uzbekistan, and Carl Ching, a basketball official from Hong Kong. The two -- who have been accused of having links to organized crime -- were denied entry by the Australian government.

 Samaranch wrote to Prime Minister John Howard seeking an explanation, and accepted his response that the decision was taken on security grounds.

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