Olympic Trials We Don't Need

In a month and a half, the Summer Olympics get under way in Sydney. The arenas and stadiums are ready, and no doubt the athletes.

But is the Olympics movement itself ready?

It's still reeling from a bribery scandal while doubts remain about it ability to police the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The recent indictment of two top officials of the Salt Lake City bid committee that won the 2002 Winter Games ensures that the aura of scandal will linger a while. In fact, the legal process could take years. It could still be running when the Winter Games debut in Utah.

The officials, Thomas Welch and David Johnson, won't plea bargain, denying charges of bribery or other wrongdoing. They argue that they did what was "absolutely necessary" to win over members of the International Olympic Committee.

Late last year the IOC installed a number of reforms designed to rule out future bidding scandals. Ten members of the committee resigned in the wake of the Salt Lake City revelations concerning favors and money.

But more may need to be done. A current investigative series by the Los Angeles Times underscores the murkiness of IOC accounting practices and the difficulty of finding out how much of the millions in development money ever really gets to the athletes who need it for training.

Equity is an issue too. The country whose corporate sector puts by far the most into the Olympics, the United States, gets by far the most back from the IOC. The Times reports that the US Olympic Committee (USOC) gets about half the $406 million distributed by the IOC to member countries.

And the drug issue? It lurched back into view recently when the former chief of drug testing for the US Olympic Committee, Wade Exum, filed a suit against his old employer. He charges breach of contract and racial discrimination, among other things. Most important, he alleges the USOC frequently turned its head the other way when top athletes tested positive for banned drugs.

This comes as China, Britain, and other countries are dealing with drugging controversies concerning their athletes. Even the hint that the US has a history of drug coverups has to send a shiver through the Olympics ranks.

The basic problem: the Olympics has become big business, with millions of dollars from endorsements, sponsorships, and broadcast rights. That has come to overshadow the celebration of talent and competition. But even with huge commercial interests, the Games can be run with honesty and fairness.

That, we hope, will be the finish line for the Olympics, spurred on by its current troubles to more nearly live up to its ideals.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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