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  • Sunday, March 28, 1999

    Scarred by scandal

    Ex-IOC member Haggman tries to rebuild her life following horrific experience

    By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun
      ESPOO, Finland -- Three months of emotional turmoil, angry headlines and second guessing finally caught up with former International Olympic Committee member Pirjo Haggman yesterday.
     Sitting inside one of the private boxes at the new LansiAuto Arena, where she works as director of public relations, Haggman broke down in tears while telling The Toronto Sun, in an exclusive interview how she never should have resigned from the IOC and how she should have defended herself, but was too emotionally defeated at the time.
     "The situation was so unbelievable," Haggman said. "I was alone. Having gone through this divorce and all these things ..."
     Haggman explained that on the day she tendered her resignation to IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch (Jan.19), she fully intended to defend herself against allegations that she had accepted favours from the 2002 Salt Lake City and 1996 Toronto Olympic bid committees.
     In fact, that morning Haggman faxed Samaranch a document she had prepared with the help of a lawyer, a document she was convinced would exonerate her of any wrongdoing.
     A few hours later, though, the 12-time Finnish sprint champion and three-time Olympian threw in the towel. The pressure had become too much. The media spotlight was not just bright, she said. It burned.
     She felt that even if she was exonerated by the IOC ad hoc committee -- and there was a lot of talk at the IOC meetings two weeks ago in Lausanne that would have happened if she had defended herself -- the media never would have left her alone.
     Earlier last week, Haggman's ex-husband Bjarne showed the Sun several Finnish newspapers from the time of the Haggman scandal.
     To say the least, the stories were big, bold and unkind.
     "I felt the media tried to kill me," she said. "When I tried to say something in my defence, they said, 'No, you are lying.' Every morning it was lead news, every morning there was something new. There was so much pressure from the media, I couldn't handle it."
     Haggman told the Finnish press she had no idea her estranged husband had applied for a position with a Utah-based engineering company in 1993, during the 2002 bidding process, or that he had accepted a paid consultant position with the Salt Lake committee. The couple was separated at the time.
     In fact, Haggman said her first knowledge of any improprieties involving Bjarne and the Salt Lake bid came via a fax from Samaranch in January.
     "I said, 'what the hell is this?' And then I called Bjarne and asked for an explanation. Of course I was mad," Haggman said. "I didn't know what he was doing. We weren't together. We had different bank accounts. I didn't have any idea."
     Bjarne, a forester, told the Sun that he presented, without Pirjo's consent, a job proposition to the Utah-based Great Basin Engineering Co. in November 1993, two months after he and Pirjo had split up. In retrospect, he admitted, it was a stupid mistake, although he defended his right to find work wherever it is available.
     In fact, Bjarne took full blame for his wife's problems relating to the Salt Lake bid, adding he was the root of her problems and the architect of her demise.
     As for the Toronto '96 situation, Pirjo said that she had no idea of the rent arrangement the Toronto 1996 bid group (TOOC) reportedly had with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. TOOC officials said the Ministry was supposed to pay the Haggman's rent while Bjarne worked in Sault Ste. Marie as a forestry inventory specialist between Jan. 1989 and Sept. 1990, but said they reneged on their end of the bargain.
     TOOC ended up paying the rent and that resulted in a worldwide scandal and, ultimately, Pirjo resigning.
     Yesterday, she admitted being inexcusably naive to her ex-husband's affairs and, in retrospect, foolhardy in her relationship with TOOC. A media conference Pirjo held in Helsinki following the revelations of Toronto and Salt Lake backfired and sealed her fate with the IOC.
     "The (stories the next day) said, 'Ah, now we know. You're divorced. You have left your children. You are a bad mother ... "
     Haggman also revealed to the Sun yesterday that just before the IOC disciplinary meetings in Lausanne two weeks ago, she sent a letter to Samaranch asking if he would consider letting her back in the IOC. The change of heart came a few weeks ago while she was taking a late-night stroll near her home.
     "I thought, I have done nothing wrong. I haven't killed anybody. I haven't took any money. I have tried not to do anybody wrong in any way."
     The IOC willingly accepted Haggman's resignation while allowing such rogue members as Phil Coles of Australia and Un Yong Kim of South Korea, who accepted monstrous favours, to remain on the committee. Samaranch turned down Haggman's request.
     And so, still very emotionally frail, Pirjo Haggman is attempting to rebuild her life without the IOC, which, she said, hasn't seen its last corruption scandal.
     "There is still something much, much bigger behind some curtains that are not open," she said.
     Surprisingly, she holds no ill will toward the IOC or Samaranch, although she does believe the president set the table for the widespread corruption.
     "Samaranch should be a good example for all IOC members. He shouldn't have accepted valuable gifts, not even for the (IOC) museum," she said.
     What has kept her going through these tough times has been the support of friends, some former IOC colleagues (not the two Canadian members), Paul Henderson of TOOC, and her two boys, Anders 17, and Anton, 12.
     She said Anders recently was asked to prepare a report at school, outlining -- after careful study and consideration -- what country he admires most.
     "And you know what he wrote?" Pirjo said. "Canada."

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