International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch opened the IOC's general session here today by pledging "transparent, thorough and effective" reforms of the excesses highlighted in the Salt Lake City bribery scandal.
But, in remarks to reporters this morning and to delegates gathered at tonight's opening ceremony, Samaranch displayed his characteristic feistiness toward critics who say the IOC's reforms will not be complete until Samaranch resigns.
"We say yes to the reforms necessary to consolidate the Olympic movement, without renouncing our convictions," Samaranch told the gathered delegates. "But we say no to hasty reforms to please our critics. No to reforms which defend the interests of some at the expense of others. No to reforms based on personal and conflicting interests."
Samaranch's defiance of "our detractors" was a thinly veiled response to critics, most notably in the U.S. Congress, who say that IOC reforms have not been fast or deep enough to ensure a cleaner future for the world's most popular sporting events.
At a breakfast meeting with reporters, Samaranch said the IOC has fulfilled its promise to "clean house" by purging 10 members for accepting improper inducements during Salt Lake City's winning bid for the 2002 Games.
Samaranch noted the IOC had set up an ethics commission, opened its financial books and created a reform panel that will recommend structural and other changes by the end of the year. That panel is due to submit a report to the IOC during this session in the South Korean capital, which hosted the 1988 Summer Games.
"What we promised was done," Samaranch said.
The five-day IOC session that began tonight begins a new era for the IOC. The committee is still focused largely on ethical and administrative reforms to repair its tarnished image, and those discussions will dominate at least the unofficial discourse here. But with the 2000 Games in Sydney, which begin in 15 months, largely cleared of any ethical lapses, the IOC is now free to move back to more routine business -- such as selecting a site for the 2006 Winter Games.
Six European sites are in the running, with Sion, Switzerland, and Turin, Italy, considered the top candidates. The site will be chosen by the IOC membership on Saturday, after a streamlined selection process conducted by a small group of IOC members. The IOC had come under sharp criticism for the lavish treatment of IOC members visiting potential host cities.
Still, much of the spotlight in Seoul remains on Samaranch, the Spanish IOC president, who turns 79 next month and has led the IOC since 1980. Today he again ruled out resigning to take responsibility for the Olympic scandals, saying he intended to complete his term in office, which ends in 2001.
"What I said is very clear: I have decided to go until the end of my mandate," Samaranch said at his morning meeting with reporters. "The only thing that can stop me is if I don't have the confidence of IOC members or if I am ill. If one day I have the feeling that my physical condition is not the same as today, I will leave."
Samaranch, who won an overwhelming vote of confidence from IOC members in March, also released a letter of support signed by the 10 members of the IOC's executive board.
"In these difficult times of crisis wrought with danger, a strong, wise, trusted leadership is essential," the letter said. "We unanimously support you . . . and ask you to continue to devote your time to the Olympic movement as president of the IOC, until the end of your present mandate."
Samaranch joked that compared to the onslaught he has faced since the Salt Lake City scandal disclosed massive corruption and unseemly excesses by IOC members during his term, current rumors of IOC agitation against him are a breeze: "If you compare these days to the last weeks, this is a vacation for me," he said.
Samaranch got another boost tonight from South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, who said he and Samaranch have been "best friends" since the 1988 Seoul Games. "I am always proud of him as a man of the world," Kim said.