The International Olympic Committee membership united this weekend behind its president and voted to bring change--and presumably meaningful reform--to an organization under fire since the explosion of a major ethics scandal last year.
Yet when IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch awoke this morning and traveled to Geneva for a flight to Washington, where he will testify before Congress on Wednesday, major challenges remained for the organization and its 79-year-old president.
Samaranch has failed to receive the same enthusiastic vote of support from some outside the IOC that he received this weekend from the body's members as they voted nearly unanimously for the 50 reform items he advocated, including a ban on all-expenses-paid visits to cities bidding for the Olympics--the very practice that led to the year-long scandal that resulted in the expulsion or resignation of 10 members.
The passage of the reforms was viewed with skepticism by lawmakers and those inside the Olympic movement who fear the IOC has done the minimum necessary to calm jittery sponsors and assuage a critical press and Congress.
"It appears the IOC has taken a significant step forward toward restoring its credibility," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who held a hearing on the scandal earlier this year. "However, as we've seen in the past, what the IOC says and what the IOC does are two different things. A timetable for implementation of these reforms remains unclear."
At the same time, many of the IOC's 100 members--drawn from 77 nations--believe the United States and particularly Congress have done far too much meddling in Olympic affairs. Wednesday's hearing, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), will be the fourth this year on Olympic-related topics by Congress, which defends its involvement by pointing out that U.S. companies are the organization's major sponsors.
"The committee for the American Congress should first sanction its own nationals and not concentrate so much on us," said IOC member Ivan Dibos of Peru, referring to the scandal that originated with proponents of Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Winter Games offering inducements to IOC members in order to win their votes.
IOC member Lambis W. Nikolaou of Greece told Samaranch over the weekend: "I would suggest you do not go to Washington. You are president of the IOC and you are only accountable to the Olympic family."
Samaranch said Sunday he is prepared to answer questions on any topic Wednesday. This is his first appearance before Congress and an uncustomary position for a man who has shunned the spotlight throughout the crisis. During the previous hearings, IOC bashing and calls for Samaranch's resignation dominated the sessions, attended by IOC members Anita DeFrantz and Jim Easton of the United States, IOC Director General Francois Carrard and Vice President Dick Pound of Canada.
Mario Pescante, an IOC member from Italy, said Congress's approach has been as troubling as its extensive involvement.
"It is the style," Pescante said. "The style is very intimidating. . . . The U.S. has a right to put the question: 'What happened?' because the U.S. is a fantastic power in sport. . . . But frankly, the intervention was considered interference. . . . This is unacceptable."
Samaranch is unlikely to be spared the disparaging tone applied in previous hearings. Jeff Benz, a member of an ethics commission appointed by the U.S. Olympic Committee and chaired by former Senate majority leader George Mitchell, said the IOC watered down certain recommendations made by Mitchell's panel in its ethics report.
For example, Benz said, Mitchell's panel recommended the election of a majority of IOC members from outside bodies in the Olympic movement. The IOC reform went only so far as the addition of 15 athletes selected by their peers and a partially independent screening panel that will suggest candidates for membership. Benz also criticized the IOC's decision to adopt renewable eight-year terms for members rather than set term limits.
"They run the risk of politicizing the organization even more, with people worried about being re-elected," Benz said, adding: "All of that said, there is a positive story here. The IOC acknowledged that it had to take some steps in changing the way it does business and it has taken some steps."
Samaranch is expected to tell Congress the IOC relied heavily on the Mitchell panel's recommendations in drawing up its reform plans, as he stated in an interview last week. He will probably point out that the IOC exceeded Mitchell's suggestion on visits to cities bidding for the Olympics, banning them entirely rather than merely tightening rules and procedures governing them.
Samaranch likely will receive the solid--and meaningful--support of former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who will also testify at the hearing and who was among the outsiders on the IOC's semi-independent reform group. Kissinger said this weekend he conferred frequently with Mitchell panel member Ken Duberstein, a former White House chief of staff, as the reforms were crafted.
Even if Samaranch leaves the hearing relatively unscathed, there remains plenty of damage to undo.
David D'Alessandro, president of John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance, a major worldwide Olympic sponsor, removed the Olympic rings from company materials when the scandal hit. He has soundly criticized the IOC throughout the year and says he still is not convinced meaningful reform will occur.
"The first thing they've accomplished," D'Alessandro said, "is they've acknowledged that public opinion does count. In the past, there have been no limits on levels of arrogance. . . . We are somewhat more confident but we will have a wait-and-see attitude with how everything is implemented."