World strives to purify Olympic flame
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Given the lasting furor around the International Olympic Committee, the gods of Greek mythology might lumber down from Mt. Olympus to rekindle the spirit in which the Games were begun.
As it is, modern Greece is making an effort to do so. So are a host of other nations.
No corruption, less commercialism, and a cease-fire in the world's wars are some of the high goals Greek organizers are setting as Athens prepares to host the Olympics in August 2004 - for the first time since the ancient games were revived here in 1896.
To varying degrees, calls for a back-to-basics approach are being issued worldwide.
Events throughout the history of the Games have stolen the spotlight from sport: terrorism, boycotts, the use of performance-boosting drugs.
But none has generated as great a call for reinvigorating the Olympic tradition as the furor around Salt Lake City's vote-buying in securing the right to play host in 2002.
Toronto has appointed an ethics commissioner in its bid for 2008. Beijing, despite sharp words aimed at Sydney over the rights to 2000, has sided with Australians rather than trying to use controversy to wrest the Games away. And in Mexico City, one idea involves having rich nations help poor ones play host.
In Greece, some politicians have revived the idea of permanently bringing the Olympics back to their homeland as a way of putting a stop to the graft that has come to be associated with the act of moving the Games from one country to another.
But the proposal by Greece's right-wing New Democracy Party was rejected Feb. 10 in the European Parliament, and is even being dismissed as "romantic" by Costas Bakouris, the Greek business executive in charge of getting Athens into shape for the Olympics in 2004.
"We're trying to do everything we can to make it more democratic and transparent," says Mr. Bakouris, who was recruited for the top job by Greece's prime minister. "We want to give it the historical balance that only Greece can give."
The Greek Ministry of Sports will hold a Youth Festival earlier that summer at the actual site of ancient Olympia with 4,000 athletes under the age of 18 forsaking beach volleyball and the like for classic Olympic events.
Greece will also try to institute a cultural Olympiad between 2000 and 2004. This new period of international cultural exchange would be hosted by whichever country was holding the Olympics.
And, most boldly, Athens 2004 and the Greek Foreign Ministry are trying to revive the idea of an Olympic-inspired military truce to recapture the nonbelligerence competitors agreed to during the ancient Games.
"We, of course, cannot stop war," says Jacques Rogge, a Belgian who serves as the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) coordinating chairman for the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Games. "We can just relay the ideal of the Games to ... world leaders, but ultimately we depend on the goodwill of politicians and governments."
What could prove just as difficult is scaling back commercial endorsements. Many sponsorship contracts have already been given out. And the idea of limiting profits may be a hard sell in Greece, the poorest member of the European Union.
Bakouris insists he will have limits: "We won't commercialize the torch relay," he says, criticizing Coca-Cola's place on the back of the torch-bearer's T-shirt at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
"If they want to do that, they can hang me from the Acropolis," he says.
Elsewhere, the desire to win the Games somewhere down the line appears undimmed, though a new care is being applied to bringing them in.
Toronto's 'city-building' hopes
Bid organizers in Toronto express hope that whatever reforms within the Olympic movement are introduced in the wake of the current corruption scandal will only work to Toronto's benefit as it seeks to win the 2008 Games.
Before the scandal over the selection of Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Games, TO-Bid Committee chairman David Crombie says, the conventional wisdom was that Toronto's approach to wooing the Games was too high-minded to be effective.