The International Olympic Committee, which began the year facing outrage over the worst ethics scandal in its 105-year history, today completed an unprecedented restructuring designed to bring about reform, restore public confidence and send IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch to Washington with good news to report to Congress.
This "is our answer to the public, athletes and the Olympic movement," Samaranch said. "We did what we promised. . . . I recognize there has been a breach of trust between the IOC and public opinion, but I believe the decision taken today is a start and the confidence will come again."
Besieged throughout the year by harsh criticism from the media, public officials, sponsors and Congress, IOC members passed 50 reforms nearly unanimously that Samaranch claimed would transform the IOC into a more youthful, open, trustworthy and modern body.
The IOC passed arguably its most significant reform of the weekend when members voted 89-10, with one abstention, in favor of banning all-expenses-paid visits to cities bidding for the Olympics. Many outsiders viewed that issue as the true test of reform following allegations that Salt Lake City officials bidding for the 2002 Olympics bought votes from IOC members. Ten members were expelled or forced to resign in the wake of the controversy.
News of the weekend's events was greeted with a mix of skepticism and approval by one of the IOC's sharpest critics, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. President David D'Alessandro.
"They've accomplished more than anyone expected a year ago," said D'Alessandro, whose company is one of the IOC's top 11 worldwide sponsors. "It says the IOC has taken a first step. They, of course, consider it a giant leap. That's not to denigrate them having taken a first step. It's not something they did willingly, nevertheless they did it."
The 50-item reform package carried the legitimacy of the semi-independent commission that created it, including former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former United Nations secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
The near-unanimous votes on even the most contentious issues--there were only 26 votes of opposition on all 50 items--displayed Samaranch's remarkable ability to rally the organization's 100 members from 77 countries, many of whom expressed disagreement with the proposals and anger at what they felt was unjustified criticism from outsiders.
"Our vote was mostly a vote of confidence for Samaranch," Italian IOC member Mario Pescante said. "Many, many people were against some of the proposals, but we decided almost unanimously that we would support the president."
Samaranch will take the reforms to a hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, where he will testify before the House Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations--despite the objections to the visit by several IOC members who view it as capitulation to criticism and demands from the United States.
"I have no message" for Congress, Samaranch said. "I am there to only answer their questions. . . . The United States, as you know, is a very important country in the Olympic movement."
Both Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who have chaired congressional hearings on the scandal, expressed the same wariness as D'Alessandro.
McCain said through a spokesman that he would insist upon quarterly written reports on the reforms' implementation from IOC Vice President Anita DeFrantz, the highest-ranking U.S. IOC member. Upton, who will chair Wednesday's hearing, said: "We must make sure these reforms do indeed have the teeth behind them to bring about real and lasting change."
During the discussion of visits to bid cities, 37 members contributed to what was at times a heated debate. Pakistan's Syed Shahid Ali charged that bid cities had used "satanic" methods to prey upon IOC members and that the IOC was "unnecessarily suffering from a guilt complex."
Norway's Jan Staubo rejected the visit ban, saying it "would create the impression that IOC members cannot be trusted." Britain's Princess Anne argued that a ban would be "nonsense" because it was "unpracticable" and "unenforceable."
But Tomas Amos Ganda Sithole of Zimbabwe expressed the apparently prevailing view that "there is an issue of public perception that the IOC has just woken up to" and urged members to vote for the reform.
Samaranch, who sent letters to all members asking for their support for each reform, maneuvered strategically throughout the weekend session. He commended the members for their dignity throughout the scandal and thanked them for their support--they voted nearly unanimously for Samaranch to remain president during a secret ballot vote in March.
He placed much of the blame for the problems on the bid cities, stating repeatedly that corruption requires two parties, a giver and a taker. The session had the feel of an us-against-them locker room meeting, with the IOC determined to show the skeptical outside world that it deserved respect.
Members openly celebrated the result.
"This was one of the best moments in so many years of the IOC," said IOC executive board member Marc Hodler of Switzerland, whose allegations of impropriety in the bidding process ignited the crisis. "I will even take a glass of wine. It's a revolution."
Whether or not Congress will agree is unclear. Though the IOC adopted many reforms requested by an ethics panel led by former U.S. Senate majority leader George Mitchell, members of Congress were sharply critical of the IOC during three previous hearings on Olympic matters this year.
"We went beyond sanctions and expulsion and enacted reform," Samaranch said, "that will transform the IOC."
Key reforms approved by the International Olympic Committee yesterday:
Visits by IOC members to bid cities are banned. "It is also not necessary for representatives of candidate cities, or third parties acting on their behalf, to visit IOC members."
IOC evaluation commission to visit bid cities and prepare report as a basis for members to make the final selection.
Full IOC continues to choose host city by secret ballot.
Introduction of minimum standards, forcing cities to meet certain criteria before being allowed to bid, thus avoiding unnecessary expense.
National Olympic committees to have full responsibility for the bids and actions of the bid committees.
All candidate cities that meet minimum requirements and evaluation criteria to take part in final ballot. However, the IOC executive board may select finalists if any cities are not considered ready to hold the Olympics.