The Italian city of Turin was selected today to host the 2006 Winter Olympics, in a surprising International Olympic Committee vote that appeared heavily influenced by backlash from the Salt Lake City scandal.
Turin, Italy's third-largest city, defeated the Swiss alpine village of Sion by a broad margin, 53-36, in a secret ballot of IOC members. Sion had been the clear front-runner based on a glowing report by the IOC's site evaluation committee. But to much of the Swiss delegation, it was punished today by IOC members angry at their Swiss colleague Marc Hodler, who blew the whistle in December on the IOC corruption that eventually was revealed during multiple investigations of the Salt Lake City site selection scandal.
"Hodler created an atmosphere that was not friendly to the IOC, many members didn't like it and today they took revenge," said Jean-Loup Chappelet, a member of the Sion bid committee. "This is also a loss for the IOC. Today we realize its members are not able to make fair decisions."
After the vote, Hodler said: "It's unfair. For Sion, it's really unfair."
Hodler, a longtime IOC member, said a possible backlash against him was not the only thing that led to today's outcome. He said he also believed it resulted from a perception that Switzerland, home of the IOC headquarters, has too much influence on the IOC.
"Somebody has to take the fault; somebody has to be blamed. I take the blame," Hodler said, adding that, "It would have been scandalous" if he had not described an allegedly systematic pattern of vote-buying in the Olympic site-selection process. He said in December that there had been corruption in the bid campaigns of Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Games; Nagano, Japan, for the 1998 Winter Games; Sydney for the 2000 Summer Games and Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Games.
Turin, an industrial and historic city of 2.2 million in northern Italy, is the first Olympic site chosen under new rules put in place following the debacle Hodler's comments ignited. Instead of hosting scores of IOC members during the selection process, only the 16 members of the IOC's site evaluation committee visited the six candidate cities. The others were Helsinki; Klagenfurt, Austria; Poprad-Tatry, Slovakia; and Zakopane, Poland.
Bid officials in those cities were not allowed to provide lavish entertainment to IOC members, as they have in the past. And lobbying was restricted to video presentations and eye-catching pitches, such as Helsinki's Santa Claus patrolling the hallways of the IOC's hotel in Seoul.
Turin, making its first bid for the Games, will bring the Winter Olympics to Italy for the first time since the 1956 Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo. When the decision was announced by IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, Turin supporters began chanting "Torino! Torino!" -- the city's name in Italian -- and spraying champagne across the crowded lobby of the posh Shilla Hotel.
Moments later, members of Turin's bid committee descended the wide staircase from the second floor, where the IOC had made its choice. Turin's Olympic hometown hero, ski champion Alberto Tomba, walked down the stairs carrying a beautiful blonde woman with one arm, blowing kisses with his free hand.
As the hour of the vote approached, dozens of television cameras jostled for position around the Sion delegation, which seemed a sure bet. When Samaranch said "Torino" on the large-screen television, the delegation appeared stunned as all the cameramen ran off toward the screaming Turin delegation.
"I'm very sad," Sion bid official Gabrielle Nanchen said of the loss, the third defeat for Sion, which failed in its 1976 bid and also lost to Salt Lake City.
In Sion, stunned spectators on hand for the selection announcement stood in disbelief, before raising their fists in anger, crying, whistling and jeering Samaranch as his face appeared on a jumbo television screen.
Outraged, some turned SION 2006 flags into pickets, with hastily scribbled slogans such as "CIO-Mafia" and "IOC go to Palermo." Police reported that angry protesters had defaced a statue in the Olympic museum's gardens in Lausanne, Switzerland, home of the IOC, about 62 miles west of Sion.
Before the announcement, the Sion delegation had reason to be confident: The IOC evaluation commission, in its January report, lavished praise on the famous Swiss picture-postcard resort tucked close to the Matterhorn. And while it was generally positive about Turin, the Italian city seemed to come up second in many important aspects in the commission's report. In Sion, almost all ski venues and a new ice hockey rink would have been less than a half-hour from the Olympic village, and the figure skating rink would have been within walking distance.
In Turin, only hockey and other skating events will be held in the city. All ski events will be held at various sites at least an hour away. The commission's report concluded that Turin's sports facilities "could be more concentrated."
Sion offered almost 18,000 hotel rooms in the immediate vicinity, plus another 150,000 rental units within 25 miles. Turin has only about 4,800 hotel rooms in the city, with another 40,000 or so nearby, prompting the commission to conclude that Turin's accommodation plan "needs to be further studied."
"Many IOC members don't even read the reports," Chappelet said. "This is not a decision about organizing the Olympic Games; it's about Olympic politics."
Swiss economic minister Pascal Couchepin agreed, saying: "In that circle decisions aren't made according to objective criteria. Considering the quality of our dossier, the difference in votes was grotesque . . . ridiculous."
Of Hodler, Couchepin said: "It was proved what he said was right. But I congratulate Mr. Hodler in his courage even if it was a bad influence on us."
Turin, Italy At a Glance
Population: 2.2 million.
Previous Games in Italy: Cortina d'Ampezzo (Winter Games, 1956); Rome (Summer Games, 1960).
Sites: Ice sports in Turin; Alpine events in Sestriere, Bardonecchia and San Sicario; Nordic events in Pragelato; bobsled and luge at Beaulard.
Strengths: Backing of Turin's industrial community; regional winter sports tradition and experience in organizing ski events; influence of powerful Italian Olympic community.
Fact: Turin is Italy's third- largest city and home of Fiat, the automotive giant.
CAPTION: Supporters of Sion's bid to host the 2006 Winter Olympics show their disappointment following IOC's announcement to hold Games in Turin, Italy.