Sir Roger Bannister, an ex-Olympian and the first sub-four-minute miler, once said the Olympic Games were "one of the great leavening forces for good in the 20th century." But that was said before politics, drugs, and greed began to taint this ennobling athletic competition.
On Saturday and Sunday, one year after a bribery scandal erupted over Salt Lake City's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games, the 93-member International Olympic Committee approved 50 reforms that it hopes will remove that taint.
The most significant self-reform is a ban on member visits to cities bidding to host the Olympics. Such visits, which often came with offers of gifts, were at the root of IOC scandals. Over the past year, 10 members were expelled in the face of corruption probes related to such visits.
Other reforms include an eight-year term limit, a lowering of the retirement age, the inclusion of 15 athletes, and televised IOC meetings.
Such measures go a long way to prevent the kind of abuses in the past. But are they enough to resist the mounting pressures of big money that surround the Olympics?
The profits made in television rights, product endorsements, and in hosting the Games will only grow. The IOC will need to build on these reforms to remain beyond reproach.
Fortunately, Olympic ideals still inspire so many people that Congress and American commercial sponsors of the Games are eager to keep an eye on the IOC.
Perhaps a bit of ancient Greek wisdom is needed to keep the Olympics from becoming too big and the IOC too powerful. The ancient Athenians knew that any human activity, even sports, must be done in moderation. That's why they inscribed these words on their temple at Delphi (one of four sites for the original games):
"Nothing in excess."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society