Olympics Tin

The president of the International Olympic Committee has it right, at least in theory. Referring to the current controversy over bribes allegedly paid by cities to become Olympics venues, Juan Antonio Samaranch said, "if we have to clean things up, we will."

Follow-through on that pledge ought to mean rethinking the way the IOC does business. For years, the committee has adhered to an elaborate, time-consuming ritual. Its members (currently 115) visit sites around the globe that are vying for the prestige - and the prospective commercial payoff - of hosting the Games.

Cities, particularly in the US where intracountry competition is fierce, spend millions of dollars just to be in the running. Incentives to tip the odds with bribery are large. According to the IOC member who uncorked the controversy, the latest instance of such high-rolling baksheesh occurred during Salt Lake City's campaign to win the 2000 winter Games.

Marc Hodler, a Swiss with long service on the IOC, disclosed last week that the committee handling Salt Lake's Olympics bid set up a fund that has given some $400,000 in scholarships to athletes, including to six relatives of IOC members.

Mr. Hodler went on to state his belief that 5 to 7 percent of IOC members were open to such inducements. Every member has a vote on where Games will be held.

Hodler added that at least three other Olympics host cities in the past decade - Atlanta, Nagano, Japan, and Sydney - had probably engaged in forms of vote-buying. But he didn't blame the cities. They were the "victims," he said. The villains, he implied, were new "professional" lobbyists who broker the relationships between cities and the IOC.

Longtime Olympics observers are skeptical that things will change. But why yield to such pessimism? Putting site decisions in the hands of a smaller committee and requiring it to operate in clear public view would help to deter bribery and limit the influence of other perks, such as free travel and sumptuous dining.

IOC members who care about Olympic ideals will demand the cleanup promised by Mr. Samaranch. This scandal is different from drug-taking and other rules infractions by athletes. But issues of clear standards, fair competition, and honesty are no less applicable - and crucial.

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