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Western Press Review: The Olympics Scandal Meets With Condemnation

Prague, 26 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators are focusing increasingly on the implications of the current bribery and corruption scandal in the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Several call for the resignation of IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch who, they say, is ultimately responsible for the scandal as well as for the commercialization of the Olympic Games.

IRISH TIMES: Samaranch's response to the current scandal has been lamentable

The Irish Times today notes that, "with characteristic confidence, Mr. Samaranch is refusing even to countenance resignation after the most serious corruption scandal in the 104-year history of the Games.... The IOC," the paper adds, "under his often autocratic control for the past 21 years, is scarcely a model of transparency and accountability."

The paper's editorial goes on: "While [Samaranch's] success in overseeing the commercial success of the modern Olympics is undoubted, he increasingly seems out of touch. His failure to appreciate the importance of the various drug scandals which have afflicted the Olympic movement has been widely criticized and his response to the current scandal has been lamentable."

"At this juncture," the IT believes, "demands for his resignation appear well justified. Despite the potential for corruption, none of the proper safeguards was in place. Most critically of all, Mr. Samaranch still seems reluctant to accept any personal responsibility for what has happened. The irony is that the critical central question about his personal future is whether the IOC, the supposed guardian of the Olympic ideal, can reform itself."

LE SOIR: The Olympic snake has clearly taken hold of its own tail

Belgium's daily Le Soir also wonders whether Samaranch will be able to preside over the IOC for much longer. In a signed editorial, Philippe Vande Weyer writes: "Since the first reports [last month] of bribery by the cities that were candidates for Olympic Games, hardly a day passes now without new, ever more juicy revelations. The [Olympic] snake has clearly taken hold of its own tail and is in the process of eating it. Under such conditions, how long can the big boss of this organism --always ready to give lessons in virtue to others-- hold on to power?"

The editorial continues: "Perhaps not by coincidence, [the bribery scandal] has erupted just at the time when the fees charged for television coverage by the IOC have escalated and the Games themselves have become thoroughly commercialized --two critical consequences of Samaranch's 'management techniques.'.... It also comes," Vande Weyer adds, "at a moment when...the [114] members of the IOC are more numerous and thus less controllable than ever before."

The editorial concludes: "It was an illusion to think that cities with enormous economic interests, ready to do everything to obtain the Games --and their financial benefits-- for themselves, would play the candidate game by the rules. Aided by lobbyists well-informed about the weaknesses of certain figures in the Olympic movement, it was both easy and necessary for the candidate cities to use all available weapons."

OSTSEE ZEITUNG: The IOC engine apparently needs lubrication

Several German papers comment briefly on the Olympic scandal. The Ostsee Zeitung, published in Rostock, says that Sunday's formal "recommendation to expel six IOC members following allegations against them of bribery and far from the end of the Olympic scandal." The paper believes that "the bribery that has been revealed to have taken place in Salt Lake City's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics is just the peak of a large iceberg of Olympic fraud and corruption. The IOC looks upon itself as the engine of a huge money machine called the Olympics. But this engine apparently needs lubrication."

FRANKFURTER NEUE PRESSE: The whole Olympic business has to be cleaned up

The Frankfurter Neue Presse strongly attacks the IOC, saying "it has failed to regain its credibility by blaming everyone but itself for the corruption. The whole Olympic business has to be cleaned up," the paper declares, asking: "How can [the 78-year-old] Samaranch continue to rule Olympic sports like a dictator? How is it that a body as important as the IOC is recruited mostly from among elderly people --who are appointed, not elected."

ESSLINGER ZEITUNG: Perhaps Samaranch is not corrupt. But he is quite unbearable

The Esslinger Zeitung has even harsher words for Samaranch. It writes: "The boss of the IOC, a former minister under Spain's fascist dictator [General Francisco] Franco, is now trying to escape from the whole mess. That will not be so easy," the paper says.

It editorial goes on: "Samaranch has admitted he himself accepted gifts --an expensive sword, a watch and a tie-pin -- said to be 'normal favors for very important people' only. Perhaps Samaranch is not corrupt. But he is quite unbearable," the paper concludes

INFORMATION: The Olympic ideal has now been nearly destroyed

In its editorial today, the Danish daily Information begins by quoting Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin's famous words that "the most important thing in the Olympics is to play rather than win, just as the most important thing in life is to fight rather than triumph." The paper then declares that "the Olympic ideal has now been nearly destroyed by the dishonorable behavior of the IOC's members..."

The editorial goes on: "Cynics say that the current round of [IOC] firings and resignations is racist. Poorer and darker members from southern countries (Equador, Congo, Mali, Kenya, Sudan and Chile) have been forced out. But," the paper says, "it turns out that Nordics are no less corrupt: a Finn and two other [European] IOC members have already resigned of their own volition."

Information says further: "Despite Samaranch's promises to tighten up membership procedures and to establish an ethics committee within the IOC, there are doubts that the IOC will be able to re-invent itself from within. The Committee is probably more corrupt than the revelations [of Salt Lake City] suggest. There are rumors," the paper adds, "that some [IOC members] have been bribed with diamonds, that they have used the [free] services of geishas in Nagano [Japan], and that they have been offered [free] female companionship in Berlin. Allegedly, too, the Norwegian city of Lillehammer [where the 1994 winter Olympics were held] also bribed IOC members with hundreds of thousands of dollars."

AFTENPOSTEN: IOC members began to behave as if they lived in a country of their own

In Norway itself, the newspaper Aftenposten writes in an editorial: "For years, IOC members have cultivated a remarkable survival instinct. Membership in the IOC brings prominence and prestige as well as free tickets to sports matches and invitations to presidential palaces and luxurious hotel suites. IOC members began to behave as if they lived in a country of their own. They went about the world as if they were diplomats of that non-existent country, not representatives of their own nations."

The editorial continues: "As its leader, Samaranch has been the most eminent of all IOC members." Amidst the increasing revelations of corruption, says the paper, "he should be the first to resign. But he doesn't appear likely to. He has climbed so high that he has gone beyond the point of no return. From where [Samaranch] is today, he can only be forced out of office."

Aftenposten acknowledges that "no corruption charges against Samaranch himself have been proved and he should not be treated as a criminal. But," its editorial adds, "what has been revealed all took place during Samaranch's 21-year-long tenure as IOC chairman. So he is at least an accomplice. And it was not Samaranch who took the initiative to investigate the corruption allegations. He was forced into a probe by people around him who had started to wonder [where all the money had gone]."

NEW YORK TIMES: The IOC is undemocratic, secretive and unaccountable

Two U.S. newspapers also believe that Samaranch should resign. The New York Times writes: "The sacking of [six] bribe-takers from the ranks of more than 100 IOC members may be good face-saving public relations. The [IOC's] promise to test a corruption-resistant process for picking the host city for the 2006 Winter Games is welcome. But the...widening scandal suggests that IOC president...Samaranch should step down. Since bribery infected Olympic site selections on his watch, he cannot now credibly supervise a cleanup." The editorial continues: "The IOC is undemocratic, secretive and unaccountable. Its delegates are not government representatives. Yet it plays a pivotal role in the financing, marketing and selling of the Games. Host cities invest hundreds of millions to build facilities, hoping to create post-Games economic benefits. The television and advertising budgets have become enormous."

The NYT concludes: "For these reasons, the IOC's next leader should be an executive who can operate the lucrative business of staging the Games ethically. An unyielding devotion to clean and transparent business practices should match the athletes' pursuit of the Olympic ideal."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: It's so important that the leadership be held accountable for the current fiasco

The Wall Street Journal Europe titles its editorial today: "The Other Olympic Gold." Quoting an article by Simon Barnes in yesterday's London Times, the paper writes: "Mr. Samaranch is a politician through and through; when in trouble blame everybody else and form a committee." The WSJ goes on: "Mr. Samaranch's response seems especially insufficient given that the Salt Lake City games are hardly the only ones to be tainted by scandal."

The paper says further: "Even before [the scandal broke], there was much complaint about the various ways in which money might be corrupting the games....[Also] of concern should be the recent penchant --probably driven by the revenue concerns of the organizers-- to include sports for which Olympic gold is so evidently not the most sought-after reward. Basketball, tennis and soccer come to mind."

"As for ensuring that the bidding process remains open and fair," the WSJ adds, "introducing greater accountability to the IOC will go some way toward preventing future abuses. But no system is independent of the people who run it. That's why it's so important that the held accountable for the current fiasco."