And now, a word about bribery

By , Senior sports columnist of The Christian ScienceMonitor

Why all the gnashing of teeth concerning the graft and corruption that Salt Lake City engaged in to lure the 2002 Winter Olympics to its local venues and nearby mountains?

Come on, people, we are shedding crocodile tears and engaging in hyperbolic hysteria over bribes of gifts, cash, scholarships, medical care. Besides, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said earlier this week his state was engaged in "relentless soul-searching" over what it did. Feel better?

Corruption of all stripes, including bribery in particular, is how a lot of business is done around the world. The Olympics are big business, and they are done around the world - ergo, corruption. Star American Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz confirms corruption is everywhere in the bidding process. The top dog for the Salt Lake Games, Frank Joklik, resigned. Why?

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After all, International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch received a pistol and a rifle from Salt Lake, probably worth more than $2,000, and he says he has no intention of resigning. He told the Associated Press that he put them in a storeroom with other gifts he has received. Had he used them, presumably we would have firearms of a different caliber.

This is not to mount a defense of illicit carrying-on. But wrongdoing of far bigger magnitude engulfs us daily. Everywhere.

Indonesian President Suharto was felled because of his family's ill-gotten billions of dollars from government enterprises. Corruption brought down prime ministers in India and Pakistan. In South Korea, two former presidents were jailed because each received enormous bribes from Korean companies. Numerous Japanese politicians and businessman have resigned in corruption scandals. Bribery charges resulted in the impeachment of the presidents of Brazil and Venezuela (broadly considered one of the world's most corrupt countries) and the resignation of Ecuador's president.

Nigeria is a hub country for bribery. Kenya is a bribing nightmare. So are China, Russia, the Middle East, and Mexico. U.S. News & World Report says a World Bank Survey of 3,600 firms in 69 countries showed 40 percent of businesses pay bribes.

While Western Europe and North America are least prone to such behavior, the US record involving corruption is abysmal, nonetheless. Over recent months, law-enforcement scandals involving drugs have hit Los Angeles, New York, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Washington. In Florida, a federal Drug Enforcement Agent stole $760,000 in laundered drug money. Periodic New York police bribery cases are a fact of life. Of course, organized crime is always in the hunt, notably involving trash hauling. Lockheed Martin once was found to have paid $22 million in bribes to get aircraft orders.

Three advisers to Ron Carey, Teamsters Union president, admitted directing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the treasury into Carey's reelection campaign. Not, of course, that anything surprises us about the Teamsters, dating to the jury tampering trials in Tennessee of then president Jimmy Hoffa.

Examples are legion. It doesn't have to be big to be bad. Go to a Las Vegas show and present your ticket, and you are apt to sit in a different area code than the one in which the performer is cavorting. Slip $50 to the maitre d' and suddenly you are sitting real close and feeling real happy. Bribery? Of course.

Our overreaction to Salt Lake City's sleaziness comes because we somehow want - even yearn - for our sports to be pure and clean and honest. And in our pipe-dreaming moments, we think of them that way. Nevermind all the junk that tarnishes the Olympics, ranging from drugs and East German swimmers to hundreds of the world's athletes being awash in steroids to horrible nationalistic judging of figure skating and gymnastics.

We want to think the best of sports. We want them to transcend the real world and transport us to some magical place. We want to link sport with honor. We want to join fair play with integrity. Somehow, sports should be different.

Would that that be so. But perhaps even more important, how should we feel about corruption and the Olympics?

Within a few days, the IOC says it may expel a dozen or so members. Already there have been several resignations. But this won't stop Olympic corruption any more than a barbed-wire fence slows the wind. Meanwhile, at least we need not worry about what Sydney did to get the 2000 Olympics because a spokesman there says that "all actions were proper." Excellent. Don't you feel better?

So how do you really feel? Please let me know: looneyd@csps.com

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