The International Olympic Committee today enacted--with near unanimity--a series of sweeping reforms designed to restore its credibility following a yearlong scandal triggered by allegations of vote-buying and other forms of corruption in the selection of Olympic sites.
Passage of the reforms was deemed critical by IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, whose legacy is considered by many to be tied to this weekend's results and who personally lobbied many of the 93 members in attendance. Warned by former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger during a pre-vote address that "failure to proceed along these lines would create a crisis of public confidence," members voted to accept 27 measures unanimously and issued only 16 total votes of opposition for the 38 reforms, which were considered today and approved.
"I said it would be President Samaranch's failure if it didn't work," U.S. IOC member Anita DeFrantz said. "He succeeded. This is his success."
In an early, but significant, first-round victory for Samaranch, the IOC dealt with most of the major recommendations before them this weekend. Reducing the age limit for members from 80 to 70 produced the most opposition, but eventually passed by an 81-8 vote, with four abstentions. The IOC also voted for the election of 15 active athletes to the membership; a partially independent selection committee to screen and propose candidates for membership; eight-year, renewable terms for members and an eight-year term for the president, with one renewable term of four years.
The reforms will have drastic, long-term implications for an organization in which members have until now served for life (or until they reach 80) and been appointed by the president. However, the current members--more than 60 of whom are over age 60--will be exempt from the age limit and immediately commence eight-year terms. At Sunday's session, the reform agenda includes a vote on the most contentious issue: whether to prohibit members from visiting cities bidding for the Olympics, the practice that spawned the scandal.
Ten IOC members were ousted following revelations that they accepted lavish gifts, free trips and other benefits provided by members of the Salt Lake City committee bidding for the 2002 Winter Games.
Today's session was open to the media via television monitors. Votes were cast by a show of hands.
Debate preceded nearly every vote, some of it vigorous and appearing to favor voting down the proposal at hand. But with the urging of Director General Francois Carrard, who asked members to pass the reforms as guiding principles and to save their specific concerns for the crafting of the Olympic Charter language, the process went smoothly.
The session began with an impassioned speech from the usually unemotional Samaranch. The 79-year-old Spaniard, in his 19th year running the IOC, cajoled, empathized with and expressed gratitude to the members as he asked them to vote to relinquish some of their current powers.
"You have been facing harsh criticism. You have gone through undeserved sufferings and pains, very often unfair," Samaranch said. "As president, I suffer too. . . . The alternative was to work very hard to solve this crisis . . .
"We must put the interest and values of Olympism before our own concerns. The reforms I ask you to approve are reasonable. The entire world is watching us."
Samaranch was followed to the microphone by Kissinger, a member of the IOC's quasi-independent reform commission, which crafted the 50 proposals before the members this weekend. Kissinger, like Samaranch, tread carefully as he asked members to pass the reform measures--many of which were conceived on the basis of recommendations made by an ethics committee led by former U.S. Senate majority leader George Mitchell.
That committee's report was extremely critical of the IOC, accusing it of allowing a culture of corruption to flourish.
That culture, the report said, led to the scandal.
"Some people would argue that this is all in response to outside pressures," said Kissinger, one of 81 reform committee members, 44 of whom are IOC members. ". . . [But] none of us joined this panel and gave up so much of our time to respond to public criticism. . . . This is our best judgment of what is needed."
The members spent as many as 30 minutes discussing each reform. The later process of amending the Olympic Charter to codify the reforms occupied the entire afternoon.
"At least at this juncture, the work that's been done by President Samaranch and the leadership seems to be showing," said U.S. Olympic Committee President Bill Hybl, a member of the reform committee. "My personal experience has been that President Samaranch worked very hard on a one-to-one basis dealing with his members."
The IOC also selected 10 of the first athlete members. They are: U.S. volleyball player Robert Ctvrtlik; Italian cross-county skier Manuela diCenta; German rower Roland Baar; Algerian track and field star Hassiba Boulmerka; Ukrainian pole vaulter Sergei Bubka; Canadian sprinter Charmaine Crooks; Norwegian speedskater Johann Olav Koss; Russian swimmer Alexander Popov; Kazakhstan cross-country skier Vladimir Smirnov; Czech javelin thrower Jan Velezny.
A Time of Change
Key reforms implemented yesterday by the IOC:
IOC to have maximum of 115 members: including 15 active athletes; 15 presidents of international federations; 15 presidents of national Olympic committees or continental associations, and 70 elected on an individual basis.
Introduction of term of office for members. Members have eight-year term, with unlimited possibility of re-election. Existing members given automatic eight-year term from time of this weekend's session.
Age limit of 70 for all new members. Current limit of 80 continues for members who are already in place.
IOC president to be elected for an eight-year term with possibility of additional four-year term.
SOURCE: Associated Press