Originally created 02/11/99

Former Atlanta Olympic chief denies acting on bribe memo



ATLANTA -- Former Atlanta Olympic chief Billy Payne admitted Wednesday that he wrote a memo outlining possible gifts to International Olympic Committee members, but said that he immediately dismissed the idea.

A copy of the memo dated Aug. 20, 1990, outlining possible gifts to IOC members to secure their vote in the selection of the 1996 Games was sent to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"It was wrong to even think about it, but what matters is what we did not do," Payne said during an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm embarrassed by it, and I feel like a jerk. It was a dumb thing to do, but our failure to act on this or even discuss it is a manifestation of how our system worked."

The IOC selected Atlanta over favorite Athens, Greece, to play host to the 1996 Olympics during an election held in Tokyo on Sept. 20, 1990.

"It was in the heat of the battle, about three weeks before Tokyo, and I was just brain dumping, which I have a history of doing," Payne said. "I have no fear that one of these brain dumps resulted in inappropriate action -- we're not perfect, but we are sure our system worked."

The IOC is embroiled in a bribery scandal that began late last year when Salt Lake Olympic officials admitted to paying cash, supplying free medical care and giving scholarships to IOC members and their families.

Nine members have either been expelled or resigned from the IOC, which oversees the running of the Games and selects host cities.

A report released Tuesday by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee implicated 10 more IOC members.

Payne has consistently denied any wrongdoing while securing the Games. Some of the gifts suggested in his memo were a tennis scholarship to the University of Georgia for the daughter of an IOC executive board member, free medical care for another and free airline tickets for two other members interested in attending an international baseball game in Atlanta.

IOC member Pal Schmitt's daughter eventually attended the University of Southern California on a tennis scholarship. IOC vice president Anita DeFrantz said Tuesday she recommended Petra Schmitt for the USC scholarship, but Schmitt told the Hungarian newspaper Nepszabadsag Wednesday that Petra had secured the scholarship on her own.

Payne said he cannot recall whether or not he sent the memo, which was addressed to Olympic organizer Ginger Watkins, or how long it took before the idea of bribes was rejected.

"I can't tell you whether it was an hour or a day later," Payne told the AP. "It was 10 years ago ... it was a difficult time and I thank God that reasonableness was applied throughout the process."

The memo came from records stored at the Atlanta History Center that Payne and his lawyers have refused to make public. The records detail the bid process, as well as the organization of the 1996 Games.

"These are private records," Payne spokesman Lee Echols said. "We will make those records relevant to any allegations of impropriety, but it would be really fruitless to open up all the records unless there is a specific allegation that requires proof."

IOC vice president Dick Pound had earlier said he wanted to look into the bids of all potential Olympic cities dating back to 1996.

Payne and other former Olympic organizers are still preparing a response to an anticipated request from the IOC concerning its bid.