The Olympic torch is flickering. It could go out. Not that the Games will stop. The investment of money, talent, and television air time is too great for that. But the torch of idealism that has illumined the modern Olympics for 105 years, making them worthwhile despite the mounting hype, needs reigniting.
The bribery scandal engulfing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) could put a further damper on the Olympic ideal. Or it could so shake up the Games' establishment that real soul-searching - and real housecleaning - results.
The steps announced so far by IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch are hopeful. In response to the tumble of disclosures regarding money, gifts, and scholarships proffered by cities bidding on the Games, the IOC executive board has expelled six members. It also plans to form an independent ethics committee to monitor the site selection process in the future. And it proposes to take the actual choosing of sites for the 2006 Games largely out of the hands of the 115-member IOC. A smaller body would take on most of the work. That should do away with luxury trips to candidate cities.
These measures, however, demand diligent follow-up. The IOC president has a lot to prove. He has presided over a vast commercialization of the Games and, sadly, a growing corruption of the IOC. The influx of sponsor money, TV money, and millionaire professional athletes brings its own unfortunate dynamic - of which the IOC bribery scandal is only the grimiest edge.
The full IOC must back the proposed reforms when it meets next month. And it should go further. What's needed is a radical alternative to the whole bidding process - perhaps regular rotation among a few geographically diverse sites? Certainly the companies who compete to sponsor the Olympics should demand the highest ethics from organizers as well as athletes. The Olympic ideal - honest competition highlighting courage and excellence - is, after all, what they want to bask in.
The torch must be replenished.