A powerful International Olympic Committee member from Mexico today launched a sarcastic and bitter broadside against the United States during an IOC general session.
Mario Vazquez Rana, a Mexican press baron, said that America would never be forgiven for a scandal that has permanently tarred the Olympic movement.
"I can assure you that the problem inherent to corruption was born from people in Salt Lake City," Vazquez Rana said. "We will have always been besmirched. I'm sorry to say that this is something that comes from that wonderful country, the United States of America."
During the general session -- the first ever carried live on closed circuit television -- IOC members engaged in a sharp series of finger-pointing, blame and denial for the scandals that resulted in the expulsion of 10 IOC members earlier this year.
Michael Knight, the chief executive of the 2000 Sydney Games, also flustered the gathering by delivering a sharp rebuke to his fellow members, urging them to accept cutbacks in their lavish perks and privileges to help repair the tarnished image of the Olympic Games.
Knight noted that following the Salt Lake City debacle, Sydney organizers had cut thousands of dollars worth of planned receptions, limousines for IOC members, entertainment for their spouses and even floral arrangements in IOC members' hotel rooms.
Knight's criticism, while mild compared to the blizzard of razors the IOC has endured in recent months, moved several of his colleagues to take the floor and shovel some dirt back on to the Australian.
"Personally I felt it was not appropriate for . . . Mr. Knight to take the tone of a schoolteacher and give the IOC lessons on what should be done regarding this crisis," said Denis Oswald, a Swiss IOC member and president of the International Rowing Federation. "I think the tone and the lessons were out of place."
German IOC member Thomas Bach, a former Olympic fencing champion, supported Oswald, angrily telling the assembly, "The IOC never asked for any flowers."
Chinese IOC member He Zhenliang complained about the decision to abolish an opening ceremony for the IOC on the night before the Sydney Games begin. Knight said the decision had been made, but that maybe something smaller could be arranged for the IOC members.
It was left to Jacques Rogge, the IOC executive who heads the panel coordinating the Sydney Games, to calm the gathering.
"I want to assure you, dear colleagues, you still have a bed in Sydney, you still have some decent food, you will still be able to get a seat at venues, and you will still have a car to follow your function," he said.
Rogge said the IOC had a responsibility to help Sydney reduce costs to meet its $1.65 billion budget.
"There is absolutely no problem in eliminating what is not necessary," he said. "When we are athletes, we lead a sober and Spartan life, and we should lead by example."
The snippy back-and-forth illustrated a fundamental problem confronting the IOC this week. The IOC generally believes it has problems to correct, but many here think those problems aren't nearly as bad as they have been made out to be by IOC critics and the media.
The IOC has set up separate commissions to review its ethical and procedural practices, and they are to report by the end of the year. Already, some changes have been made to prevent the excessive perks and luxury -- and outright bribes -- that got the IOC into such trouble in Salt Lake City. Rules on entertaining IOC members are being more strictly enforced, and the IOC today approved new penalties for those who abuse the rules.
Some of the six cities here bidding for the 2006 Winter Games are passing out free baseball caps and Helsinki even brought a rental Santa Claus to pose for wintry portraits in the muggy Seoul spring. But there is no obvious sign of excess, of the lobsters and jewelry and other goodies that some IOC members have received from over-eager bidders in the past.
But Knight gave voice to a lingering skepticism about whether the IOC is really committed to fundamental reforms. While Knight praised the IOC for what it has already accomplished, he told reporters later that he felt compelled to publicly challenge his colleagues to "follow through" on fledgling reforms and "share some of our pain."
"A lot of things have happened in the last 18 months," he said. "There was a need for comment about the IOC. It was deliberate. The things we are cutting back on are the things the IOC has come to expect. I think it is good for the IOC to be seen making the cuts. Out there in the real world, they need to be seen cutting back on their entitlements.
CAPTION: Michael Knight, the chief executive of the 2000 Sydney Games, chastises IOC members at assembly in Seoul.