Originally created 09/22/99

House chairman will push IOC to clean up its act



WASHINGTON -- Contending there was a "culture of corruption" surrounding Atlanta's bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics, a congressman said Tuesday he will hold hearings next month and ask the president of the International Olympic Committee to testify.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said a report on the Atlanta bid, submitted to Congress last week by former Attorney General Griffin Bell, shows that IOC members in many cases demanded gifts and favors and that Atlanta bid committee officials were more than willing to accommodate them.

"Clearly votes were for sale, and it's got to stop because it muddies the whole name of the Olympics," he said. "That's why we've got to get to the bottom of this and we've got to do whatever we can to restore the faith and confidence of everyone."

Upton said if IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch doesn't appear voluntarily at hearings held by the House commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigation, a subpoena is likely.

Upton said his panel will consider ending the IOC's exemption from the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as a possible way to stop the long-standing practice of gift-giving to IOC members to influence the selection of host cities for the games.

And he suggested the U.S. businesses that provide much of the financial support for the Olympics through advertising might be willing to pressure the IOC to clean up the bidding process.

Atlanta officials welcomed the hearings. Bell, who has acted as attorney for Atlanta organizers, said he hopes the hearings will "encourage new discussion about what is good about the games and how to keep it that way."

Upton's panel began looking into the Atlanta bid last summer following the Salt Lake City bidding scandal that resulted in two federal indictments and the resignations or forced expulsions of 10 IOC members.

Atlanta officials submitted an initial report on their bid to the subcommittee in June, then agreed to revise it after questions were raised. Upton said he's convinced that the Bell report is "thorough and final."

The report revealed that the gifts and perks the Atlanta committee lavished on IOC members and their families included offers of college scholarships and jobs; medical care; a bus; training for athletes from other countries; golf clubs; pewter dishes; meals; and first-class airline tickets.

Upton said the Atlanta officials also violated U.S. laws on several occasions, by providing a firearm to a foreign national and by bringing more than $10,000 in cash into the country. But he said the statute of limitations has expired on those violations.

While agreeing with Bell's assessment that Atlanta was operating within an IOC bidding culture that condoned such practices, Upton said Atlanta officials should have "blown the whistle" on it, rather than join it.

"They didn't have to give some of these sweet gifts, which under any normal layman's definition one would view as bad," he said. "Would they have gotten the games if they hadn't done so? I don't know. Maybe that's something we'll ask Samaranch."

Some IOC members have criticized the Bell report for suggesting that Atlanta was drawn into a corrupt climate that already existed. Italian IOC member Mario Pescante, who led Rome's losing campaign for the 2004 Games, accused the Americans of ducking responsibility.

"Why don't the Americans take the responsibility for the people who organized this strategy of bribery and corruption? Who started this? They did," Pescante said.

Upton said Congress and the IOC should ensure that in future bids, "cities will be chosen based on the merits of the games they can provide and not on the quality of the gifts that instead are offered."

The U.S. Olympic Committee, meanwhile, said it plans no further investigation of Atlanta's bid. The USOC forwarded a copy of Bell's revised report to the IOC last week and said in a cover letter that no further USOC action is planned.

"We've learned all the lessons to be learned in this," said Scott Blackmon, deputy executive director and lead counsel of the USOC. "Based on what we've seen in the report, it looks like more of the same culture. There's nothing different between what happened in Atlanta and Salt Lake City."