International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch today predicted a swift end to "excessive reactions" and anger over the IOC's choice of Turin, Italy, to host the 2006 Winter Games, a selection widely seen as political retribution from the Salt Lake City gift-giving scandal.
"The IOC understands the disappointment of the people of Sion, the Valais and Switzerland," Samaranch said at the close of the IOC's general session, citing the Swiss village that lost to Turin despite submitting a bid that an IOC commission had rated as superior.
Sion bid committee members in Seoul, and their supporters at home, responded to the site selection announcement with anger and bitterness. They accused the IOC of penalizing Sion for the actions of Swiss IOC member Marc Hodler, whose public statements last year led to investigations of widespread corruption in the IOC's practices--and eventually, the expulsion of 10 IOC members.
Samaranch today defended the IOC's bid process and selection by secret ballot, saying it was conducted "freely and democratically" between two "excellent" bids. Four other finalist cities had been eliminated in earlier voting.
"The IOC regrets the excessive reactions of certain people but is sure the traditional Swiss sense of calm will soon prevail once more," he said.
The Salt Lake City scandal has dominated the IOC's general session. Questions about the pace of the IOC's reform efforts led to several nasty exchanges among IOC members earlier in the week. And the selection of Turin caused divisions in the IOC to spill out publicly again.
Among the actions taken by the general assembly was approving a code of ethics, which allows members to accept gifts only of "nominal value" and prohibits them from soliciting, accepting or offering benefits or services connected with the Olympics.
Also today, the IOC warned its members that they could be called in for questioning by the FBI if they enter the United States, in connection with a federal investigation into the Salt Lake bribery and vote-buying scandal. The investigation is continuing and no indictments have been handed up.
IOC Director General Francois Carrard told the general assembly that the IOC would offer legal assistance to members traveling to the United States. He noted that several members already have been questioned by the FBI during visits to the United States on business.
Carrard said the FBI questioning so far had been carried out "in a respectful and discreet way."
He said the IOC would provide members with a one-page document outlining their legal rights and advising them how to contact the IOC's lawyers in the United States.
"It is the duty of the IOC to protect you, defend you and assist you," Carrard said.
Samaranch promised that the IOC would "respect the FBI . . . and respect the Justice Department" and agreed to any requests for interviews.
"We want this problem to be finished as soon as possible," he said, adding that he was not worried about being questioned himself.
"If I am interviewed, there will be an interview," he said. "It is no problem for me."