By Amy Shipley, Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 14, 2000; Page D01
SYDNEY, Sept. 14 (Thursday) – On the eve of his final Olympics as president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch responded vaguely or ignored questions about lingering corruption in the Olympic movement and instead attempted to turn attention toward the staggering commercial growth of the Olympic Games during his 20-year tenure.
Having overseen the transformation of the Olympics from a boycott-plagued and nearly bankrupt venture in 1980 to an event that generates more than $1.3 billion from television rights fees alone and will cost Sydney about $3.5 billion to stage, Samaranch used his only pre-Olympic news conference today to illuminate his successes and brush aside what many consider major failings.
“The Olympic Games are stronger than ever,” Samaranch said. “I am sure in 2001 I will leave to my successor, the eighth president of the IOC, an organization much stronger than I received, and the proof is this: 21 [thousand] journalists in Sydney.”
Indeed, there about double the number of media representatives than there are athletes (about 10,700 are expected). The television audience will be the largest ever, reaching an estimated 3.7 billion viewers in 220 nations.
When Samaranch took over the IOC presidency in 1980, dozens of nations boycotted the Moscow Summer Games and only one city – Los Angeles – cared to bid for the 1984 Summer Games. Now, dozens of cities compete for the right to host the Olympics, a competitive reality that led to reports of bribes and the biggest corruption scandal in the organization’s 104-year history.
Samaranch, though, dismissed concerns about gigantism and other issues.
Asked about a slate of embarrassing problems that have hit the IOC the last week, he said he did not know of any problems. Last Friday, two Olympic officials were refused entry into the Australia because the immigrations minister deemed them security threats. The immigrations office later revealed that it admitted another 20 to 40 Olympic officials who would usually be denied entrance because of criminal histories or other background questions. And it came to light this week that Samaranch lobbied the Indonesian government to allow a jailed IOC member to attend the Games.
On Wednesday, Peter Eigen, the chairman of the German-based Corruption Perceptions Index, said during a news conference in Berlin: “Corruption takes many forms and is a universal cancer. On the eve of the Olympic Games, it is worth recalling the fact that some of the leaders of the bribe-scarred IOC are still running the show.”
Samaranch said he had not seen any report, so “I cannot give you my opinion.”
Ten members resigned or were expelled from the IOC in the last two years because of their involvement in the bribery scandal that engulfed the campaign of Salt Lake City, which bid successfully to bring the Winter Games to the United States in 2002. Samaranch reiterated his concern about the release of Salt Lake City files during a coming trial that might do further damage to the reputations of IOC members.
“The attack of members of the IOC, only with rumors and not facts, we cannot accept,” Samaranch said, adding, “we are not very worried because we are used to reading and watching things and rumors that aren’t true.”
These Games, Samaranch told members Monday during an organization meeting in central Sydney, will be a turning point for the Olympic movement.
“After Sydney, I think we will be able to say we have transformed the IOC,” Samaranch said. “We will have modernized it and brought it up to date.”
In other news, the IOC elected former US Olympic Committee president Bill Hybl for membership. Meantime, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) dismissed the appeals of former Cuban kayaker Angel Perez and diver Arturo Miranda, both of whom challenged the IOC’s denial of their bids to compete in the Olympic Games under non-Cuban flags.
Perez, who qualified for the US Olympic kayak team, and Miranda, who won a place on the Canadian Olympic team, wanted to compete for those countries, but Cuba had blocked their attempts, citing a clause in the Olympic charter that requires a three-year period before athletes who change citizenship can compete for their new nations. Cuba refused to waive that ban, and CAS upheld its decision.
USOC spokesman Mike Moran said the organization plans to take further action on Perez’s behalf but did not elaborate.