Salt Lake faces Olympian task

City readies for 2002 in face of world criticism, lengthy report ofviolations.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The release of a 250-page ethics report on Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics has given new meaning to the word "low" for officials who once believed they would stand out as stars in Olympic history.

Now, they preside over a worldwide salvage operation that has already changed that history.

They face the task of continuing to plan one of the most intricate sporting events during a time of crisis. The danger: The city won't be able to restore its once squeaky-clean image, and the enduring controversy will undermine the financing of the Games.

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"The people in Salt Lake City, for the most part, are quite disgusted by everything that's happened," says city Councilwoman Deeda Seed. "My sense is that a good number of them would prefer us not to go forward with our plans to host the Games, but there's not the political will to do that."

The ethics report, the second of a series of global investigations, was released Tuesday, digging deeper into the depths of the Olympic bribery scandal. At the same time, it added to the difficulty of staging the massive international Games - once focused solely on the star ability of its athletes.

IN CAREFUL detail, the report marched through Utah's 30-year effort to win the Olympics, culminating in lobbying that relied heavily on personal relationships paid for in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"The ethical violations that occurred in connection with Salt Lake City's bid point to the need, not just for disciplinary action, but also for systemic reform," Salt Lake's ethics report says of the International Olympic Committee.

In fact, the Salt Lake report implicated 10 more IOC members who essentially twisted arms, if not hearts, to gain favors. Some of those favors included Super Bowl tickets, expensive vacations, jobs, and even a dog.

The report was both surprising and expected for its blame-laying at the feet of former Salt Lake Organizing Committee president Tom Welch and senior vice president Dave Johnson. Both were heavily involved in Salt Lake's bid effort.

But the report's length and detail - in some cases providing personal e-mail correspondence - added further shock value.

Councilwoman Seed says she had reservations about an organization investigating itself. "And there is a huge question about what access to information they've had," she says. Indeed, the ethics committee noted that boxes of files were missing and some important players had refused to testify.

Still, the ethics committee painted a picture of two men who had learned the ropes of how to bring home the Games to Utah. It showed a board of trustees so focused on fund-raising that it turned a blind eye to budgetary specifics.

The SLOC, for instance, was paying out thousands of dollars in tuition assistance to IOC family members without adhering to any set of guidelines. Also, at the United States Olympic Committee's urging, it gave $40,000 to support the training of three Sudanese athletes for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

The USOC should exercise caution not to place bid cities in compromising positions, the report says. "The IOC should provide clear and explicit guidelines for bid cities to follow in their interactions with IOC members."

In what appeared to be a preemptive strike, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt proposed changes in the SLOC the week before the release of the report. He wants more accountability, ostensibly with a 20-member management committee, which would hold open rather than private meetings.

The SLOC is expected to unveil more details today about how it will reinvent itself.

"The need for SLOC to involve the community more is very important and is where the biggest change could come," says John Hoagland, director of 2002 Planning for the USDA Forest Service. "It would take it out of a realm essentially controlled by the traditional elite to where a cross section of the community is represented in decisionmaking. They need to remember that the Games belong to the people."

Mr. Hoagland says he has talked to many people who believe the Olympic culture of bribery has been long-standing.

"But they think it's too bad it had to come here in Salt Lake," he says. "Everyone recognizes it's tarnished our image. From my perspective as a native, I feel like we were kind of let down; we would have won hands down anyway. Looking ahead, I think there's still a lot of support for it."

SOME on the Salt Lake City Council, facing the specter of possible multimillion-dollar losses, are perhaps less enthusiastic.

Rep. John Dingell (D) of Michigan called for a federal probe of Olympic funding, prompting Utah Congressman Merrill Cook to say that federal transportation funding is in jeopardy.

While funding for the Games appears to be intact, some sponsors are having second thoughts. John Hancock Insurance just canceled its $20 million advertising contract with NBC.

With that in mind, Governor Leavitt has made an apparently unconstitutional pledge for the state to cover any of the city's losses. And Salt Lake City mayoral candidates are making it an election issue since Utah's constitution does not allow for such indemnification.

"If there are losses, there will be a huge legal battle," says Seed, who wants to insist that the IOC accept some financial responsibility. "Why should we do this if it's going to be a huge financial disaster?"

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